Call for free hand to suspend pupils

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Headteachers battling with a rising tide of problem behaviour call today for the restoration of the right to suspend problem pupils from school indefinitely.

In a paper submitted to Gillian Shepherd, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the National Association of Head Teachers argues that the decision by the Government to abolish the right of heads to exclude difficult pupils indefinitely was a "fundamental error of judgement".

Heads left with no middle course between short-term and permanent exclusion are often faced with having to expel in order to deal with seriously disruptive pupils who attack teachers and other children, sell drugs, or cause mayhem in class.

The paper says the decision to abolish indefinite exclusions has caused an explosion in the number of pupils being permanently excluded, many of whom are then left with little education because other schools do not have the facilities to cope with them or separate units used for difficult pupils are full.

David Hart, General Secretary of the NAHT, said yesterday: "There is a growing under class of pupils not being educated in school and for whom no place can be found elsewhere. ... there is a grave danger that the children will be lost to society. They will become the future criminal classes. This is a very urgent problem."

Since September last year, schools have only been allowed to suspend pupils for 15 days in a term or to expel them altogether. Suspension without a limit was abolished because of a feeling within the Government that some schools were using it to expel difficult pupils without trying to sort out their problems.

A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published last November found that excluded pupils missed, on average, three-quarters of a year's schooling.

Permanent exclusions were going up anyway, with a three-fold increase in the three years to 1994, rising to 11,200 in that year. But in the September term last year permanent exclusions were up to 4,800 in a single term. Research for the Independent in June this year suggested that the figure for the full year could be as high as 14,000.

Neil Thornley, the NAHT executive member for Lancashire and Rochdale, had to expel three pupils last year from his secondary school. One 11- year-old boy was expelled for a variety of offences committed while persistently playing truant from school, culminating in successfully demanding money with menaces. Another 18 pupils were temporarily suspended.

"Children push and push and push," he said yesterday. "When they become a danger to others or a danger to themselves and they affect the life chances of the rest my philosophy is that they have to go.

"When we had indefinite exclusions there was time to set up meetings with the parents and other people like educational welfare officers ... to work out a strategy to deal with the child's problems. You can't do that in a maximum of 15 days per term."

t Schools who exclude children should suffer a "considerable drop in income", a social services director said yesterday. Exclusions have risen fourfold since grant-maintained schools were introduced and such money could be used to provide services for difficult children removed from school, Tad Kubisa, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said. "Young people excluded from school receive only a few sessions of home tuition every week and they are left largely to their own devices."

and either become more isolated or congregate together to wander the streets," he added.