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Time runs out for bolshy kids

The use of exclusion as "a legitimate last resort" was given the official seal of approval yesterday (Thursday) in guidance to education authorities from the Scottish Executive - but the regulations governing excluded pupils are to be tightened.

The intention to ditch exclusion targets was announced in May by Peter Peacock, Education Minister, when he gave his first interview in his new post to The TES Scotland.

Mr Peacock said this week that targets had been helpful in setting a clear direction and in developing alternatives to exclusion. "While we remain committed to seeing a reducing trend, this must be based round good management practices, work to address problem behaviour before it reaches a crisis point and ongoing efforts to encourage better behaviour in all our schools."

The bible for schools will now be local guidelines produced by each authority. Councils will be expected to take their cue from the new circular 803 so there will be greater consistency.

There are three main changes from the previous circular issued in 1998.

Chief among them is the increased emphasis on an environment of safety and positive learning for pupils. "Decisions on exclusion may be taken to safeguard the rights of all pupils and staff to learn without fear or disruption," the circular states.

The other key shifts are added responsibilities for parents and pupils in helping maintain school discipline and a new emphasis on supporting victims of antisocial or violent behaviour. The latter will involve mediation and restorative justice approaches and the aim is to reintegrate the excluded pupil.

Despite the new departure which puts headteachers in the driving seat, the circular says the Government remains committed to meeting the educational needs of excluded pupils and authorities will be under a duty to do so.

Barring "exceptional" circumstances, no pupil should be excluded for more than one academic year. Arrangements for an alternative education must be in place within 10 school days of exclusion. If the intention is to send the pupil to another school, the management of that school must be willing to accept them.

The circular also sets out in some detail what ministers regard as good practice to avoid the need for exclusion.

Mr Peacock revealed he is considering giving heads further powers over exclusion but only if local authorities comply with the law "to provide education for every child in their area".

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