Hundreds of 'sin bins' for school outcasts

Secretary of State launches more units to teach disruptive pupils, but unions demand automatic expulsions for any serious violence
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The Independent Online

Hundreds of specialist "sin bins" will be set up to deal with the most violent and disruptive pupils, David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, is to announce today.

He will unveil plans to double learning support units, taking the total to 1,000 by 2002. The package will include new targets to improve teaching in the special units, known as "sin bins", which will have to offer children at last 25 hours a week, compared with as few as 10 hours at present. Eight hundred "learning mentors" with pagers will patrol corridors and take disruptive children out of the classroom.

Mr Blunkett will use a speech to the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers to defuse a dispute over Government targets for cutting exclusions.

But Nigel de Gruchy, the NASUWT general secretary, criticised the plans and called for an out-of-school "sin bin" in every neighbourhood and demanded expulsions without appeal to protect schools from violent and disruptive pupils.

Mr Blunkett will attempt to reassure delegates today by criticising some local authorities for being too zealous about enforcing Government targets for reducing exclusions. Ministers want to cut the number of children thrown out of school by a third by 2002.

The new centres will be in addition to the current 420 learning support centres within schools in the Excellence in Cities programme. There are also 300 self-contained, out-of-school pupil referral units, catering for 8,000 youngsters.

Mr de Gruchy said the union had a "fundamental disagreement" with ministers over their attempts to keep pupils within mainstream education. He called for a "one strike and you're out" approach, allowing heads to send violent pupils to out-of-school centres without a formal exclusion. He demanded a change in the law to end the right of parents to appeal, and said exclusions should be automatic for violent and other serious incidents. Mr de Gruchy said: "In 99.9 per cent of these cases the right of appeal means the dysfunctional parents of dysfunctional children have the right to inflict their children on the rest. Why should we give these parents these rights if they won't ensure that their children behave? If they were adults they would go to prison. If you are an adult and you assault someone in the street you go to prison. If you are a youngster and you assault a pupil you might get a two-day exclusion.

"We have had some pretty hairy examples where we have refused to teach children from drugs families and where the drugs trail has come into schools. We want to see the Government get real about how difficult some of these youngsters are." Jules Donaldson, a delegate from Sandwell, told how he visited a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. "The day I was there the head teacher had been head-butted and it took five police to escort the pupil off the premises ... The powers that be have lost sight of what the real problems are. They are not aware of the day-to-day problems that teachers in special schools and increasingly teachers in mainstream schools face from verbal abuse and physical abuse from pupils."