Carole Ford: It is clear that exclusion is a very effective deterrent

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A NUMBER of myths surround school exclusion rates. The figure of one in 10 pupils having been removed from class is totally misleading as the number of exclusions per pupil conceals the fact that a very small number of pupils are excluded repeatedly, while the overwhelming majority, certainly well over 90 per cent, are never excluded at all.

Of those who are excluded, the vast majority are excluded only once and never again. It is clear that exclusion is, in fact, a very effective deterrent; if it is necessary to exclude a pupil, it is highly unlikely that it will ever happen again. A lesson learnt.

The issue centres on the small number of pupils who repeatedly offend despite all efforts to contain their behaviour. The statistics indicate that the most frequent reason for exclusion is persistent disruption in class.

In other words, not to exclude exposes all other pupils in the class to a diminished educational experience.

Indeed, poor classroom behaviour on the part of a very small minority of pupils is possibly the most significant factor in the reduced attainment levels in schools serving areas of economic disadvantage.

Schools are pressurised not to exclude pupils, at a cost to the well-behaved majority. Ask the pupils – they certainly want the trouble makers to be removed.

But the use of on-site units to reduce exclusion rates has several serious disadvantages as the deterrent effect is significantly reduced for a number of reasons.

Pupils can still socialise with friends and remain a concern to fellow pupils if abusive behaviour is an issue. Irresponsible parents need take no action as their children remain the responsibility of the school.

Since the purpose is to reduce exclusions, when pupils misbehave in the unit there is little recourse. Activities are therefore designed to be as attractive to the participants as possible, certainly less onerous than attending class.

Not only is this not a deterrent, pupils may actively seek referral. To the adolescent onlooker it looks remarkably like a reward for poor behaviour. Given that pupils do not receive the normal curriculum in such units, education is as affected as for exclusion.

It just costs more, appears to favour the poorly behaved and lets feckless parents off the hook. But the numbers look better, and look how well that has turned out for the health service.

• Carole Ford is the former head teacher of Kilmarnock Academy and former president of School Leaders Scotland.