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Concern at rise in exclusions from school: Inspectors have highlighted inconsistency in the criteria for barring pupils. Judith Judd reports

SCHOOLS are excluding pupils for offences of very different severity and some are discriminating against Afro-Caribbeans, education inspectors say in a report published yesterday.

They note a big increase in numbers excluded, with 95 per cent of secondary schools barring pupils for brief periods and a 'worrying' rise in exclusions from primary schools. The commonest length of time is two to three days.

The inspectors say a growing number of schools, even those where behaviour is generally satisfactory, find it hard to cope with some individuals.

The report from the Office for Standards in Education speaks of 'an unacceptably wide variation between schools in the nature of the offence which leads to exclusion' and says that schools with pupils of similar backgrounds are excluding very different proportions of children.

Some Afro-Caribbean boys are unfairly barred, many for retaliating against racial harassment.

The Commission for Racial Equality said it had argued for a decade that some schools were practising unlawful racial discrimination. The inspectors had at last confirmed this, it said and called for the Department for Education to send out guidance on how to avoid unlawful exclusions.

The best schools, according to the inspectors, do not abdicate their responsibility by routinely excluding pupils but use the sanction only as a last resort. They work to return pupils as quickly as possible.

The report suggests that some heads use exclusions to get parents into schools to discuss their child and that others are taking a strict line to improve their school's image. Parents are sometimes encouraged to find another school for their child to prevent exclusion.

The report on behaviour in schools, which is based on visits to 138 primary, 181 secondary and 30 special schools, found most classrooms were orderly and most pupils worked hard. Standards were satisfactory or better in most secondaries and good in three out of four. In the overwhelming majority of primary schools they were good.

Poor teaching contributes to bad behaviour, according to the report. If lessons are stimulating, pupils behave well. If teachers expect children to behave badly, they tend to do so. There are signs that Afro- Caribbeans are treated differently from whites. 'Many teachers are unaware of how they contribute to pupils' misbehaviour, for example by their own lack of preparation or organisation or by poor teaching,' the report says.

Teachers who work hard, put themselves out for their pupils and treat each other courteously, encourage good behaviour.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the report was 'too pious for its own good'. 'I believe the report seeks to place far too much onus on teachers to be brilliant while demanding next to nothing from pupils and parents.'

Many teachers, the report acknowledges, face 'the wearing effect of a stream of relatively trivial disruptions' such as calling out in class and distracting other children. Drab, overcrowded buildings could also lead to bad behaviour.

Achieving Good Behaviour, a report from the Office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools; HMSO.