School exclusions are failing disadvantaged children and increasing the likelihood of them going on to commit offences, education experts have warned.
While exclusions have fallen considerably since 2002-3, the system is not working for a small group of youngsters, MSPs heard.
Statistics submitted to the justice committee show the number of pupils excluded from primary schools in 2002-3 and 2010-11 are similar, with just over 4,100 cases.
But numbers in secondaries dropped from 31,000 to 21,688. Permanent exclusions fell from 292 to 60.
Professor Pamela Munn, of Moray House school of education, said: “Although the pattern is numbers are declining, the persistence of these patterns is very worrying.”
Pupils as young as primary one were among those being excluded, she pointed out. “That does raise quite profound questions about why this is happening.”
Her comments came as the committee held a session on the connection between school exclusions and offending.
Members heard that a study into the childhood origins of offending found excluded children were four times more likely to have at least one conviction by age 22.
Professor Susan McVie, co-director of the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, said: “It is all very well to say we are getting better at not excluding, but for a very small minority of vulnerable, disadvantaged young people, we are not getting it right and we are failing these children.
“Some of the interventions that we have in place at the moment are at risk of labelling these young people, and we do label them as troublemakers,” she said. “They then take on those labels, learn those labels, and they stick to them.”