Education: How we are paying to create a generation of truants

A new project is trying to help disruptive children as young as four avoid exclusion from school. But the charity running the project believes that the Government is not doing enough to fight the rising tide of exclusions. Judith Judd, Education Editor, reports.
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The Children's Society is piloting a scheme which sends experts into schools to work with primary children who are at risk of exclusion. Teachers and parents can refer children for support, and children themselves can also volunteer to be helped.

The charity's two-year project began a year ago. So far, the society says, feedback from both parents and children has been encouraging. One four-year-old who had been excluded from another school has been able to remain in his current primary school, thanks to the efforts of the project workers.

The rate of exclusions is rising more quickly in primary than in secondary schools. There was a 30 per cent increase in exclusions from primary schools to 1,872 during the last year.

Research suggests that primary school children who are permanently excluded from schools lose an average of three-quarters of a year's schooling. Exclusions of pupils of all ages have risen by 450 per cent over the last five years and topped 13,500 two years ago.

The Children's Society is sending two project workers into two London schools four mornings a week to give one-to-one help to those at risk of exclusion, and to work with groups on issues such as friendship and bullying.

Pippa Bremner, the project leader, said that most children had been referred to them by teachers but they were delighted by the number of parents who had come forward. She added: "A couple of children have also come to us, but they tend to be more concerned with the immediate situation: they are having a lot of difficulty in the playground or nobody is talking to them."

The project also helps withdrawn children who are not disruptive but who are not fully included in the life of the school.

In addition, it runs parents' groups and advises on the training of classroom assistants. The idea is to get the whole school thinking about how exclusions can be reduced.

Ms Bremner said: "These schools show that, with outside support and the commitment of schools, parents and pupils, children who might otherwise be excluded can be given a real chance. If you're excluded at the age of five, what hope does that give a child for the rest of its life? The national figures for black children, particularly those from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds, are inexcusable."

Afro-Caribbean pupils are four times as likely to be excluded from school as other children.

Ian Sparks, the society's chief executive, said that exclusions amounted to "state-sanctioned truancy. While the Government has announced some welcome plans to tackle truancy, we want to see more work on preventing exclusions.

"The statistics are a shambles. No one knows how many children are excluded temporarily and there's even doubt about the figures on permanent exclusions."

For children in difficulties, he said, it was a frighteningly short route from primary school to prison. A recent Audit Commission report found that 78 per cent of permanently excluded pupils and 31 per cent of those temporarily excluded committed crimes.