Youngsters outside school system 'risk life of crime'

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The Independent Online

Children as young as 11 face a lifetime of crime, drugs and prostitution if they are excluded from school, MPs were told today.

Sir Alan Steer, the previous Government’s adviser on school behaviour, said they could find themselves with as little as an hour a week’s education provision if they were excluded from school.

Giving evidence to the Commons select committee on education, he said: “In some areas we have a situation which it is hard to describe as other than scandalous.”

Local authorities had been given a duty to provide alternative provision for excluded pupils in legislation – but the amount varied from council to council.

“We have excellent provision in some areas,” he said. “In other parts of the country children who are out of school are receiving as little as an hour a week of home tuition.

“I would bet some of those 11, 12, 13 and 14-year-olds excluded go into drugs, go into crime and go into prostitution.”

Speaking outside the hearing, he said those receiving only an hour’s teaching were “hardly likely to be found in a library” for the rest of the week.

Sir Alan added that there was a link between exclusion and prison. Many offenders having started their life of crime whilst out of school on the streets.

He called for agreed minimum national standards of tuition for every youngster excluded from school.

“It’s not only wrong but it’s stupid( to provide them with little or no education),” he added. It cost far more in the long run to look after them if they turned to a life of crime.

“The provision seems to have got stuck on the funding issue – to which I would say some authorities are managing to do this so the money must be there,” he said.

“These children can’t be left on the streets in the way that they are. The result is scandalous.”

Sir Alan also criticised the new Coalition Government’s plans to remove the right of appeal for a youngster threatened with exclusion as “morally wrong”.

Ministers plan to recommend removing the right of appeal over a school’s decision in an education White Paper to be published next month. They argue that too many youngsters are being sent back into schools by appeals panels even in cases of assault.

“I don’t approve of the proposal to abolish independent appeals’ panels,” he said. “I’m expressing the view of both of the national associations of headteachers here.

“I think it is a right and morally wrong to have a decision made by the state about an individual without them having the right to appeal.

“I hope there will be a rethink on this.”

He warned that schools would end up spending more time “before the courts” as more parents resorted to legal action as the only remedy open to them.

“It is also not true that vast numbers of children are being reinstated in schools by appeals panels,” he added.

“We need to ensure appeals panels are of high quality and there should be a training element for them – but, in my view, they are absolutely essential and they are morally right.”