Expulsions fall as heads are forced to keep unruly pupils

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Permanent school exclusions have fallen sharply, government figures published yesterday show.

Permanent school exclusions have fallen sharply, government figures published yesterday show.

Ministers, who have set a target of reducing exclusions of pupils by one-third, were delighted by the 15 per cent drop, down to 10,400 in 1998-99 from 12,300 the year before. But school heads said that teachers had paid a terrible price for the reduction by being compelled to keep more unruly pupils in class.

Jacqui Smith, the Schools minister, said the figures showed a welcome reduction after substantial increases throughout the past decade. "But this fall is being accompanied by decisive action both to get disruptive pupils out of the classroom and to ensure that excluded pupils get a full-time education," she said.

"We have made very clear to heads that we know there are times when exclusion will be necessary, not least where pupils are violent or where heads are trying to turn around a failing school."

Last month, the Government promised funding for 1,000 new "sin bins" to be attached to schools over the next couple of years.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "We have consistently criticised the Government for setting a target for local education authorities to reduce exclusion. The price to pay has been added stress for heads and teachers in looking after some very disruptive pupils who would have been excluded in previous years."

The figures also show that the gap between exclusions of black pupils and others narrowed, although the former are still over-represented among expelled pupils.

There were 1,340 permanent exclusions from primary schools and 8,620 from secondary schools; 83 per cent of those excluded were boys. Exclusions rose during the Nineties from about 3,000 in 1990-91 to a peak of 12,700 in 1996-97.

Theresa May, the Tory education spokeswoman, said Conservatives would abolish targets for exclusions. "It is unacceptable for government and local education to undermine the management role and experience of headteachers in this way."