New deal to teach pupils excluded from school

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The Independent Online

Expelled pupils will be going out to work, browsing the internet or visiting their football clubs from next month as part of a £36m drive to keep them off the streets.

Expelled pupils will be going out to work, browsing the internet or visiting their football clubs from next month as part of a £36m drive to keep them off the streets.

The schemes are among initiatives by England's 150 local education authorities aimed at meeting the Government's target of ensuring every youngster permanently excluded from school a full-time education next term.

A survey by The Independent has shown that 43 education authorities expect to meet the target. The remaining seven of the 50 which responded said either they expected to meet it next term or were reluctant to give a guarantee, saying if exclusions rose this autumn that would be a "hostage to fortune", in legal action by parents.

In Warwickshire, each excluded pupil will be offered an individual timetable, with 20 per cent of the time spent on their special project. Firms and clubs that have volunteered to work with them include Coventry City Football Club and the county fire service. Pupils can choose the project they want to work on.

A spokeswoman for the council said: "Those who opt for the fire service project spend a day a week for 10 weeks with the fire service learning how to become a firefighter and how to put out fires. There is a similar scheme for mechanics where they work with a garage."

The scheme is said to have impressed senior civil servants and may be copied by other authorities. Gloucestershire County Council is planning to send up to 100 youngsters under 16 to college where special courses, including work experience, will be tailored for them.

Many councils are using government grants or their own cash to set up pupil referral units, PRUs or "sin-bins", in which the youngsters can be taught away from classmates. Others, such as Doncaster, are earmarking cash for units in schools so pupils can be taught on the premises but away from other pupils, making it easier to reintegrate them.

Hounslow is among those planning PRUs for primary children. Milton Keynes is setting up a "resource base" for primary pupils where those excluded or subject to warnings can be taught for six weeks and helped before returning to school. "It is designed to be pre-emptive and as a revolving door policy," a spokesman said.

Others will meet the pledge, under which every pupil excluded for more than 15 days should have 25 hours of education a week, by teaching through the internet.

Buckinghamshire is setting up, an e-learning package to enable youngsters with a dislike of school to learn on the Net. The scheme, pioneered with Hillingdon and Hounslow, will allow up to 60 pupils to have a full-time education at home.

Officials say those on the programme will include school phobics and excluded pupils. They will be given mentors or "buddies" who will visit them and help with their learning. There will also be "expert days" when they will visit their online teachers and discuss their progress.

Of the councils hedging their bets on reaching the target, Kent said: "We believe it would set up a hostage to fortune to give a categorical pledge. What happens if there is a child who needs to be assessed because of mental health problems?"

Barnsley added: "By the end of September all but two permanently excluded pupils will have access to full-time education." The exceptions were a primary pupil with special needs the authority is trying to place in a special school outside its own boundaries and a juvenile offender.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said LEAs had made "significant progress" towards the Government's target. "Our policy of being tough on bad behaviour, and supporting headteachers is matched by providing education for those children who are excluded," he said. "It is a balanced policy and both parts work together to support better behaviour."

A spokesman for the Corporation of London said: "I am told we have had one pupil excluded from school in 12 years so we are confident we will be able to comply with the Government's requirements." The authority has one primary school.