Appeal panels told to keep most violent pupils out

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The Government insisted yesterday that schools would meet targets to cut expulsions, despite a major concession to give headteachers back full powers to exclude violent and disruptive pupils.

The Government insisted yesterday that schools would meet targets to cut expulsions, despite a major concession to give headteachers back full powers to exclude violent and disruptive pupils.

Jacqui Smith, the Schools minister, declared "the targets stand", but union leaders said the Government's policy to cut exclusions lay in tatters. Under the guidelines launched by Ms Smith yesterday, pupils expelled for serious violence, drug dealing, sex abuse and repeated flouting of uniform rules will not return on appeal.

The new guidelines represent a major strengthening of regulations governing exclusions issued last year. They make it clear that where a head has excluded a pupil "in line with an explicit discipline policy" the appeal panel should not normally reinstate.

Ms Smith told the Professional Association of Teachers' annual conference yesterday that the decision was proof of the Government's commitment to restore order in schools, but insisted the new measures to combat bad behaviour before children were threatened with exclusion would help ministers meet their targets.

The Government has promised to cut expulsions by one-third by 2002 from the record 12,700 in 1997. Last year 10,400 children were permanently excluded from school, a fall of 15 per cent on the 1998 figure. But teachers warned that the targets meant appeals panels were forcing schools to readmit severely disruptive children. Of the 960 appeals last year, 23 per cent were successful.

Ms Smith said the new guidelines would prevent the worst-behaved pupils being returned. But she added: "The targets stand. We have done everything we think is necessary in order to meet them." However, heads and teachers said the Government was sending out contradictory messages and warned that exclusion figures were likely to rise.

The issue was highlighted earlier this year when headteachers threatened to flout appeal panel rulings, in the wake of two cases where boys expelled for brandishing knives at two London schools were reinstated on appeal. Increasing numbers of schools have faced industrial action from teachers refusing to teach children returned to school after an appeal.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the targets were "a dead duck". He said: "The Government has effectively abandoned its targets. It was never a seriously realistic or deliverable target in the first place, not if schools are to exercise their discipline powers effectively."

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