Richard Garner: Pupils fall into an educational no man's land

If heads are illegally excluding pupils from school, that is wrong, no two ways about it.

Who says that? Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, who acknowledges that a small number of schools might have resorted to this tactic to improve their showing in league tables.

The trouble is that pupils who are told to stay away from school – as opposed to being officially permanently excluded – can fall into a no man's land whereby there is no impetus to find them an alternative education.

There is still a requirement on authorities to ensure all children receive a suitable education, in a pupil-referral unit or "sin bin", if their behaviour is too difficult to warrant their being transferred to an alternative. That would not be the case for a pupil quietly told to stay away from school.

The chances are that they will come from a disadvantaged home where their parents are unlikely to have such easy access to the legal facilities better-off parents could muster to ensure a change of heart on the part of the head.