Expelling pupils is easy - changing them is the hard part

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As a way of improving discipline and average examination results, expelling badly behaved children is simple and effective. It should be obvious, though, that it does not solve a problem; it merely moves it somewhere else.

As a way of improving discipline and average examination results, expelling badly behaved children is simple and effective. It should be obvious, though, that it does not solve a problem; it merely moves it somewhere else.

It is correct, then, that a right of appeal should be available against decisions by schools that seem to be made for reasons of convenience, caprice or league-table scores. But the case of the two boys who had their expulsion from a school in Epsom overturned by an appeals panel makes it clear that this should not be the end of the matter.

At present no satisfactory mechanism exists for appealing against an appeals-panel decision. The Secretary of State rightly does not have the power to decide individual cases, even if, in this case, Estelle Morris overstepped her authority to ensure the right outcome. The school could have sought judicial review of the panel's decision in the courts, but that would have been expensive, and the local council would not stump up the bill.

In this case, where none of their teachers and few of their fellow pupils wanted them at the school, a super- appeals panel should have been available to re-reverse the decision.

However, that is not the important issue. What matters is what happens to pupils who are expelled.

Another example of Conservative convergence with Labour this week is relevant. Iain Duncan Smith's new policy document says excluded pupils need "specialist help, outside their usual classrooms" if they are to avoid joining "the conveyor belt to crime".

This is another welcome sign that the party is shifting its attention on crime from punishment to prevention. It is also what the Government is already doing: it has increased spending substantially on pupil referral units, some of which are models of how to combine education with programmes to change behaviour.

Much more needs to be done. Too many pupils are expelled from one school only to be dumped in another that has spare places because no one else wants to go there.

Changing patterns of destructive behaviour at this early stage is hard work and expensive, but the return on the investment makes it well worth it.

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