DEALING with disruptive pupils in school is more effective - and cheaper - than excluding them, according to new research carried out for the Department for Education and Employment.
As schools minister Estelle Morris announced plans to extend a network of mentors to support disaffected secondary pupils in school, research by the Institute of Education showed the success of pilot inclusion schemes across the country funded over the past three years by the DFEE.
They included the use of multi-agency support teams to work with students at risk of exclusion, and in-school units for disruptive pupils.
Researchers Susan Hallam and Frances Castle found that multi-disciplinary teams working in groups of schools helped reduce permanent exclusions on average by around a fifth at a time when nationally they were on the rise. In some schools permanent exclusions fell by up to 40 per cent, and fixed-term exclusions were halved. They also had a positive effect on teacher stress and pupils' schoolwork.
In-school units registered cuts in exclusions of more than 4 per cent, compared to a national rise of 2 per cent. But the research team was reluctant to conclude that one type of scheme was more effective than the other.
Compared to educating excluded children at home or in pupil-referral units, the costs to local authorities of intervention were typically 40 per cent lower for multi-disciplinary teams and 30 per cent lower for school units.
That is significant given the Government's pledge that all excluded children will have full-time education at home or in a unit within three weeks of being shown the door.
But the researchers said intervention also avoided the further long-term costs to society. Only 15 per cent of permanently excluded children returned full-time to mainstream school. Other studies have drawn clear links between exclusion and the risk of involvement in crime.
Professor Hallam said: "It is possible to reduce exclusions from schools. But in order for that to happen there has to be total involvement of all the school's staff, management, parents and pupils. The projects themselves are not the panacea."
The team looked at 50 schemes in 34 local authorities and a further seven run by grant-maintained schools. Most covered secondary schools, but a handful included primaries. All were set up under the DFEE's grants for educational support and training - now the Standards Fund - in 1995. A third type of initiative, in which teachers were seconded from mainstream schools to pupil referral units, was largely unsuccessful; few local authorities took it up.
The team also identified factors behind the most successful programmes. They concluded that to work the initiatives needed to be an integral part of the school's behaviour management policy, involve the whole staff from the start and change the way the school dealt with disruption in the long term. Pupils also had to play an active role and take responsibility for their own behaviour.
The make-up of the multi-disciplinary teams varied widely and could include psychologists, social workers, education welfare officers, teachers and youth workers. What mattered most was the credibility of the individuals - getting "the right person for the job".