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Ministers act to cut school exclusions

MINISTERS yesterday pro-mised to stop schools excluding too many pupils as they produced a new report showing big variations in exclusion rates.

Just one-quarter of secondary schools are responsible for two-thirds of permanent exclusions and one-quarter do not exclude any pupils. Last year, the exclusion rate in Hammersmith and Fulham, in west London, was four times that of Newham in east London and more than six times that of Oxfordshire.

The report from the Prime Minister's Social Exclusion Unit wants to reduce exclusions by encouraging schools to intervene earlier to cope with unruly pupils. It says:

t inspectors should be sent in to schools which exclude the most pupils.

t league tables should show how many pupils each secondary school excludes permanently.

t schools should introduce "sanctuaries" where disruptive pupils can cool off.

The report says that some pupils are being excluded for wearing nose studs or trousers not bought from an approved supplier. There is anecdotal evidence that schools are excluding difficult children so poor results do not affect their position in examination league tables.

Exclusions have risen four-fold since 1990. Last year about 13,000 pupils were permanently excluded. The report also aims to cut truancy from the Government's estimated figure of one million children each year - out of around 7.5 million pupils.

Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, said: "By reducing the levels of truancy and school exclusions we will effectively cut off one of the main supply routes to welfare dependency, joblessness and criminal behaviour."

For the first time, pupils who are permanently excluded will have the right to full-time education either in a "sin-bin" or pupil referral unit or at another school. Some receive only three or four hours tuition a week.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, is hoping to receive money for the changes from the Government's comprehensive spending review due to report in July so that they can start to introduce the new arrangements from next year. Costs in pupil referral units are four times as high as those in ordinary schools.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Setting artificial targets for the reduction of truancy and exclusions will not, of itself, achieve anything unless heads are given the support they need to deal effectively with those pupils who ruin the education of their fellow pupils."