Estelle Morris

The minister for schools responds to our leading article that criticised the Government's policy on reducing the number of pupils excluded from schools
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The Independent's leading article ("Schools must be able to use the power of exclusion", 20 April) criticises the Government's "arbitrary" target for reducing exclusions. But I could not agree more that the "ultimate deterrent" of exclusion must be open to teachers. That is why we wrote to headteachers earlier this year to ensure that they understood that there is nothing in Government guidance to prevent the speedy expulsion of violent pupils who get in the way of teachers doing their job.

The issue is how you deal with disruptive pupils, without simply creating new problems outside the school gates. The fact is there was a substantial increase in exclusions during the Nineties - up from 3,000 in 1991 to over 12,000 permanent exclusions a year now, despite a small fall last year. If we are to reduce this, we will only do so by providing heads with an effective alternative in non-violent cases.

This is why, where possible, we want headteachers to use in-school learning support units to get the troublemakers out of the classroom. More than 400 are already in existence They are proving their value in keeping difficult pupils in school and learning, without damage to the education of others. Disruptive pupils are given personal support to control difficult behaviour and catch up with the curriculum.

But of course heads will still have to exclude pupils. In the past, not enough was provided for those pupils, and pupil-referral units offered little regular education. That's why we have guaranteed that by September 2002 there will be a full timetable for all permanently excluded pupils sent to pupil referral units.

It is essential they are not allowed to drift into petty crime but are given tailor-made provision which helps them to improve their behaviour and education.