news analysis of government crack down on disruptive pupils

The government has said it will crack down on disruptive
pupils. But where will that leave provision for the excluded?
Sally Gillen gauges reaction from education

The thousands of children estimated to be targeted by bullies
may have breathed a sigh of relief at the news last week that the
government is to put in place tougher measures to deal with their

But there are some education specialists for whom the
publication of the draft guidance, which reinforces head teachers’
powers to exclude pupils for first-time offences, such as carrying
a weapon, and persistent and violent bullying, is less welcome.

The guidance advises independent appeal panels that it would be
“inappropriate” to reinstate pupils who have been excluded for one
of these offences. In the past, the panels have been the excluded
pupil’s way back into school,

It is a crucial change and one that some education professionals
are predicting will lead to a rise in exclusions. This would
conflict with the government’s aim to reduce exclusions by a third,
a target it met last year when the number fell to 8,400.

According to the department for education and skills, the
government’s anti-exclusion initiative is over and the focus is now
on intervention and tackling behaviour that can lead to

But government policy has left some people puzzled. “I am really
confused as to where this has come from,” says Anita Bratherton,
principal officer in the National Children’s Bureau’s pupil
inclusion unit.

But for others the guidance, which was drawn up by
representatives from a range of teacher organisations including the
Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head
Teachers, comes as no surprise.

Judith March, Enfield council’s assistant director of children’s
services, says: “There has been a backlash from heads. For years
they have been told not to exclude and they wanted the pendulum to
swing the other way.”

Schools are overwhelmed with government initiatives, teacher
recruitment is a problem, and they feel they cannot deal with the
additional problem of bullying, she adds.

There are already signs that the policy shift is affecting the
figures. March says the number of exclusions in Enfield is no
longer declining and colleagues working in other boroughs say the
same. Although she is reluctant to predict huge rises in the number
of exclusions as a result of the guidance, March says “exclusions
will go up a bit”, but not so much because of the guidance, more
“because of the mood that is around”. But she adds that tightening
up the guidance will allow head teachers greater freedom to

It may be tempting for head teachers to use the guidance to
remove problem pupils, says Bratherton, but she is worried it may
give “head teachers carte blanche to get rid of difficult

The guidance’s wording can be interpreted in a number of ways.
For example, “persistent and defiant behaviour” could constitute
bullying. But March asks: “What does that really mean? My
four-year-old often acts in a defiant way.”

The government’s emphasis on tackling disruptive behaviour in
schools is clear enough and further demonstrated by the creation of
1,000 on-site learning support units for disaffected pupils, which
will be used by teachers to remove disruptive pupils quickly. But
it conflicts with the “one strike and you’re out” policy.

Significantly, along with the on-site units, the government has
pledged to create another 54 pupil referral units (PRU) by
September 2002. Around half of those who are permanently excluded
are placed in a PRU, a local authority-provided school that
provides education for children of compulsory school age who would
not normally have received tuition.

One interpretation of the decision to create extra PRUs is that
the government anticipates a rise in the number of exclusions, and
is looking to provide enough places to accommodate them.

That prospect worries those working with children. Bratherton
says: “Putting excluded pupils into pupil referral units is wrong.
It means the problems these pupils have are not being dealt with,
merely displaced.” PRUs will become “dumping grounds”, she

There are also questions over the ability of PRUs to provide the
same standard of education as mainstream schools. The majority of
PRUs do not provide 25 hours’ education or offer the same range of
GCSEs as mainstream schools.

Tom Wylie, National Youth Agency chief executive, shares these
concerns: “You have to ask how many hours’ education the kids in
the units are going to get. Some will only have two hours’
schooling a day. Where are these young people if they are not at

One thing is certain, the government will need to inject huge
financial resources into the existing PRUs, as well as the
additional 54 planned, if they are to match the education provision
of mainstream schools.

The existing PRU network is hugely overburdened. A shortage of
places means that many excluded children spend months on a waiting
list. In many cases home tuition is provided, but the children end
up not mixing with their peers, says Bratherton, adding to social
exclusion. In addition, many excluded students who do not get a PRU
place immediately slip through the net and drop out of education

For Bratherton any extra money would be better spent improving
anti-bullying strategies within schools, which would prevent the
removal of children into a system that increases their social

The appointment of a bullying specialist within schools, part of
whose job it would be to train other staff on how to deal with
bullying, would be one way of addressing the problem. She points
out that most newly qualified teachers do not receive advice on how
to deal with bullying as part of their training.

Tackling bullying within the school setting is also advocated,
perhaps surprisingly, by Dr Carrie Herbert who runs a school from
her Cambridge home for children who have been bullied. A former
education consultant, Herbert established the Red Balloon Learner
Centre because of her experience of schools that claimed they had a
good anti-bullying policy, but still had children who were bullied
and were too frightened to attend the school

Despite witnessing the devastating effect that bullying has on
its victims, Herbert is emphatic that exclusion is not the answer:
“Bullies need help too. To shove them out will just make them more

She adds: “Many of them do not understand the impact their
behaviour has had. In the case of violent children, they need help
with anger management. Personal and social education should be part
of the national curriculum. At the moment children receive just two
hours of this a week. More time should be devoted to discussing
relationships. For some children it will be the only time they will
do so, as it certainly won’t be a feature of their home life.”

But March has a different view. While she agrees that placing
excluded children in PRUs is not the solution, she says that
persistent and violent bullies should be excluded because of the
effect they have on other pupils. She says: “A child who is
excluded often has all sorts of problems and it is not necessarily
full-time education that they need. There should be a whole range
of packages but they are very expensive. What is needed is
involvement from other agencies, such as those in the voluntary

According to barrister David Wolfe, an education law specialist,
the publication of the guidance is very timely. He is currently
representing three children who were excluded for violent conduct.
Their cases will be heard in the court of appeal in March. The
basis of their case is that the current guidance does not allow
them full appeal rights. Wolfe says that with the guidance the
government is “gradually eroding the appeal rights of

The government should be concerned about the outcome, as victory
for Wolfe and his three clients would make its guidance

l The draft guidelines are out for consultation until
19 April and can be found at

Consultation on school exclusions

The government would welcome comments on:

– Incidents where permanent exclusion may be appropriate for a
first or one-off offence.

– Circumstances where an appeal panel should not normally direct

– The exclusion from school of looked-after children.

– The exclusion of children involved in a police

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