Chris Marshall: Excluding pupils is not the answer

A total of 21,936 exclusions were recorded in Scotland last year. Picture: PA
A total of 21,936 exclusions were recorded in Scotland last year. Picture: PA
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LATE last year, amid its annual dump of statistics on the nation’s schools, the Scottish Government released an interesting set of figures on exclusions.

Gone are the days when misbehaving or violent pupils are expelled. Nowadays miscreants are “excluded”, meaning they usually return to class within days. The very worst offenders are “removed from the register”, which despite sounding draconian, basically means they move to another school.

There were a total of 21,936 exclusions in Scotland last year – the lowest figure on record. In more than 99.9 per cent of cases, the pupil was allowed to return to their school after a temporary ban.

The cynically-minded might suggest that young people have not all suddenly turned into angels. Instead, schools are seeing exclusion as a last resort, ever mindful of how those statistics look.

That policy has come in for strong criticism from teaching unions, who say it allows disrupting influences to remain in school and damage the education of others.

Interestingly, though, different local authorities seem to disagree about how exclusion should be used. While there were just 26 exclusions per 1,000 pupils in Edinburgh and 40 in Glasgow in 2012-13, the figure for Dundee was 96.

Either the City of Discovery is sitting on a timebomb of juvenile delinquency, or education bosses there, for whatever reason, are quicker to use exclusion than in other cities.

And while there were just 18 cases in Scotland where a pupil was removed from the register during the same period, more than three-quarters of the cases were in just two local authorities, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

Despite assurances to the contrary from the Scottish Government, the current policy cannot be working if disruptive and often violent pupils are allowed back into schools to affect the education of their classmates.

We are not always talking about children caught smoking in the bike sheds here either. According to the government data, reasons for exclusion included stalking, fire-raising, threats of sexual violence and the sending of “malicious communications”.

No-one wants to see schools give up on the hardest to reach, but there must be an alternative to simply sending a pupil home for a day or two at a time.

Perhaps given its record on exclusions, Dundee is among those leading the way after creating special “inclusion units” in four of its schools.

In Fife, a long-standing inclusion unit at Dunfermline High is credited with reducing the number of pupils suspended or removed by almost three-quarters.

With studies showing that a child excluded by the age of 12 is four times more likely to be jailed by the age of 22, it is time more councils took note.