SCOTLAND'S two leading education authorities cautioned against reliance on the school exclusion figures issued by the Scottish Executive last week. The Tories' education spokesman, meanwhile, said the target of reducing exclusions by a third was unnecessary and should be scrapped.
The figures show there were 34,831 temporary exclusions in 1998-99 (up to 15 days), of which only 201 were cases in which pupils were "removed from the register" (formerly known as permanent exclusions). Because authorities were not asked to record individual pupils who were excluded more than once, the data relates only to the incidence of exclusions.
The tables also differ from the attendance figures released each year by HMI's audit unit based on the number of half days lost through exclusions.
The Executive itself urges caution in comparing authorities because of their differing policies. Half, including Edinburgh, are shown as having pupils removed from the register; the other half, including Glasgow, say the number is zero.
These disparities were highlighted by Brian Monteith, the Tories' spokesman, who says the absence of detail on repeat exclusions makes it impossible to know if Edinburgh's policies are more effective than Glasgow's or vice versa. "I suspect that Glasgow sees many pupils repeatedly temporarily excluded with no final solution to disruption or violence," Mr Monteith said.
The differences between the two cities arises becaue Glasgow insists that, while pupils may be removed from one school, they are not removed from education and the vast majority return to their original school. Hence, it has always argued, there are no "permanent exclusions".
Edinburgh also claims it never removes a pupil from the register unless alternative provision is made, but it prefers to record cases where pupils are transferred to another school. It is confident the total of 71 cases removed from the register in 1998-99 has already been cut by a third, the Government's target for reducing exclusions by 2003.
Glenn Rodger, Edinburgh's head of pupil support services, says the city has embarked on a broad strategy beginning by targeting children who may be most at risk and then developing alternatives to exclusion.
This "working together" policy includes an investment in the city's 25 most deprived primaries, where early intervention programmes, co-ordinators working with groups of schools, family support measures and tackling children's mental health aim to make a difference.
"We believe it is very successful although also very costly," Mr Rodger says. "What has been shown so far is the need to make a start even earlier, at the pre-school stages." Glasgow says it is making inroads through "innovative approaches to curriculum delivery and inter-agency working".
But Mr Rodger warned: "Improvements won't happen overnight just by throwing in a few extra bob."