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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 14:40 GMT
Analysis: Expulsion changes
mike baker
By BBC education correspondent Mike Baker

Some commentators have called it a "U-turn" on expulsions - but the truth is, the government's latest "crackdown" on bullies and pupils who carry offensive weapons will not make a huge difference to the number of pupils being expelled in England each year.


It is also, as so often in public policy, as much about perception as reality

Following a promise to reduce expulsions, or "permanent exclusions" as they are properly known these days, the government has already succeeded in bringing down the numbers from 12,500 in 1997 to about 8,300.

Allowing schools to expel pupils who are caught with an offensive weapon will not make much difference to these national totals as this very serious offence is committed by a relatively small number of students.

Indeed many of them would have been expelled anyway, although it may have taken longer to expel them than it will under the new guidelines which will allow summary expulsion for a first offence.

Alternative available

The idea behind the change - which had been called for by teachers' and headteachers' leaders - is to speed up the process of expulsion, which can sometimes be quite lengthy.

It is also, as so often in public policy, as much about perception as reality: The government wants to show it takes bullying and threatening behaviour in schools very seriously.

Ministers can also argue, with some justice, that it is now possible to take a tougher line on persistent bullies because there is now somewhere else for them to go to receive their education.

That is because, at the same time as the total numbers of pupils being expelled from England's schools has been falling, there has also been an increase in the number of places in the special units for excluded pupils, known as pupil referral units.

Bullying

In the past, too many excluded pupils ended up on the streets or simply receiving inadequate amounts of home tuition.

The changes on expulsion for bullying are rather less clear cut.

That is not surprising according to Russell Clarke, deputy general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association.

He says bullying is "difficult to define as an offence because it ranges all the way from psychological bullying to violence".

However, it seems the changes being proposed will not make a great deal of difference in practice because, according to Mr Clarke, schools are already able to expel pupils for first-time bullying offences where it includes violence.

Confusion

In cases of name-calling, it is unlikely that a head teacher would want to expel a pupil for a first offence.

However, head teachers have welcomed the change in the guidance to appeals panels which will, in future, say it is "inappropriate" to reinstate pupils excluded for bullying. According to Mr Clarke, reinstatement of bullies has a serious effect on the victims.

Much of the confusion that surrounds exclusions has dated from the government's advice to schools, known as Circular 10/99, which stated: "the secretary of state does not expect a head teacher normally to exclude permanently a pupil for a 'one-off' or first offence".

It was this, combined with the government's targets for reducing exclusions, which led many head teachers to fear that ministers were trying to tie their hands.

Common sense

However, over the past few years, the government has regularly amended its advice and insisted that it never intended schools to be forced to put up with extreme or violent behaviour from pupils.

Expulsions and bullying always attract newspaper headlines and, it has to be said, the issue has been very muddled for some time. Growing concern over violent behaviour in schools has forced this attempt at clarification.

Schools should now feel they can deal swiftly with any offence which involves either actual violence or the threat of using an offensive weapon.

It may only have brought us round to what must seem to anyone as a common-sense position: If the offence involves an irreversible breakdown in relationships within a school, then the offender should go.


Talking PointTALKING POINT
School bullies
Is expulsion of unruly pupils the answer?
See also:

16 Jan 02 | UK Education
16 Jan 02 | England
16 Jan 02 | UK Education
16 Nov 01 | UK Education
04 May 01 | UK Education
16 Apr 01 | UK Education
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