Exclusions from local authority schools in Scotland have climbed by almost 18% over the last three years, official figures have revealed.
Exclusions from council-run schools have risen again
The Scottish Executive said there were 42,990 exclusions in 2005/2006, which represented an increase of 2% on last year's figures.
Exclusions have risen each year since 2002/03, when there were 37,442.
More than 30% of exclusions involved disobedience while 25% were triggered by the verbal abuse of staff.
There were 5,779 exclusions from local authority primary schools, equivalent to 15 per 1,000 pupils.
The figures showed that the number of girls excluded has been rising. In 1999, boys accounted for 81% of all of the exclusions from Scotland's council-run schools but that figure has gone down to 78%.
The annual report makes it clear that some pupils could be excluded several times in the course of the year.
The report revealed that:
- Primary schools accounted for 5,779 exclusions, a 9% increase on the previous year;
- Secondary school exclusions went up by 2% to 35,513;
- Most exclusions were temporary but 264 pupils were removed from registers, a fall of 3%;
- About 31% of exclusions involved "general or persistent disobedience";
- A further 25% involved verbal abuse of teachers and other staff and 15% involved "insolent or offensive behaviour".
The actual number of youngsters excluded was about 22,500, or 3% of the school population.
Of these, more than half were excluded once during the year - but 19% were excluded twice.
Education Minister Hugh Henry said exclusions were a last resort but head teachers had to be able to use the ultimate sanction if necessary.
He added: "Violence is always unacceptable but it's important to keep this in perspective.
"Our schools are not battlegrounds and the vast majority of pupils are well-behaved."
Of the increase in the number of girls excluded, a Scottish Executive spokeswoman said the trend would be studied but that girls tended to be excluded more for non-violence, such as alcohol, while boys were more likely to be excluded for violence.
About 0.4% of all expulsions resulted from substance abuse while 0.3% were the result of alcohol abuse.
Fiona Hyslop repeated her call for smaller class sizes
Charlie Gray, Convention Of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) education spokesman, said: "While it is disappointing that the number of pupils excluded from school has risen by 2%, we must remember that 97% of our young people are well behaved and have never been excluded.
"I want to make the important point that these statistics do not mean that indiscipline in schools is rising."
Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish National Party's education and lifelong learning spokeswoman, said her party would reduce class sizes to help combat indiscipline.
She said: "We need to carefully examine this situation to ensure that we find a positive way forward but it's clear that smaller class sizes would play a big part in combating disruptive behaviour in our classrooms.
"That's why the SNP thinks it's time to reduce class sizes in Primary One to Three to only 18 pupils, so we can give our young people a safer and more successful start to their education."
Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservatives' lifelong learning spokesman, said: "As part of our move to empower education professionals in schools, Scottish Conservatives will give head teachers the power to permanently exclude persistently disruptive pupils, without the prospect of their decision being undermined.
"If only the Lib-Lab pact would follow us and act in the interest of the well-behaved majority, as opposed to its usual politically-correct pandering, then at last we can start to address this escalating problem."