Labour Conference: Government pledges pounds 500m to fight truancy and exclusion from schools

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The Independent Online
DISRUPTIVE CHILDREN are to be the subject of a pounds 500m drive to tackle truancy and reduce the number of exclusions from schools - now running at a record level of 12,700 a year.

"Bunking off" lessons will no longer be an option, delegates were told yesterday. And instead of being barred from school, children who disrupt classes will be put into special units supervised by teachers specially trained to cope with unruly pupils. "We want to stop kids treating exclusion from school as a holiday," said a Whitehall source.

Announcing the plans, David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, gave a pledge that within three years all children excluded from schools would have a full timetable of lessons. Officials said they would be taught in special units either on the school site or other sites operated by the local education authority.

Police and truancy-watch teams will be involved to help to cut crime by children who should be at school.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, accompanied the Prime Minister and Mr Blunkett on a visit to St George's School, Blackpool, before the debate to underline the Government's concern over crime committed by pupils playing truant.

The total number of exclusions has risen fourfold in the past decade - a figure that Mr Blunkett hopes to cut by two-thirds, to about 9,000, over the next three years. Schools could gain extra cash or "dowries" for taking excluded pupils.

Schemes for tackling truancy include computerised registration to help to monitor attendance during the day; more home-school liaison and extra school staff to follow up non-attendance, pupil pass schemes to keep checks on their whereabouts and special guidance for difficult pupils.

The number of summer schools for literacy and numeracy lessons will be doubled to 1,200 next year, and Mr Blunkett promised an extra pounds 105m for the "National Grid for Learning", which links school to teaching aids on the Internet.

Mr Blunkett also foreshadowed his Green Paper on performance related pay for teachers, a controversial policy which the teaching unions are expected to treat with caution. It could raise some teachers' salaries by more than pounds 10,000 to pounds 40,000 a year.

Mr Blunkett wants the bonuses to go to most teachers. The Education Secretary has had a rough ride for attacking bad teachers, but yesterday he sought to praise the high standards of teaching in Britain. "I want to develop a system where good teaching is rewarded, and where high performance gains high reward," he said.

He won a standing ovation, but he was heavily criticised by one delegate for retaining Chris Woodhead as the head of the schools inspectorate, Ofsted, at a higher salary.

"The decision to reappoint Chris Woodhead was bad enough, but to give him a massive 46 per cent pay rise ... is nothing short of a kick in the teeth to teachers and makes a mockery of public sector pay policy," said Kathleen Hewitt of Durham. She accused Mr Woodhead of destroying teacher morale with his criticism.