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School exclusions in Scotland

Updated Wednesday, 12th May 2004

Jean Kane describes the procedures for school exclusions in Scotland and looks at some of the issues raised

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Heading to school - but what happens to those who are excluded? Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team An empty school Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team There various kinds of exclusion from school, such as truancy which is a form of self-exclusion by the pupil as well as exclusion by the school of those pupils who have broken the behaviour code of the school. These different forms of exclusion are often linked to each other and all forms are seen as connected to social exclusion, or to a lack of participation in the mainstream of society. Some groups of young people are particularly vulnerable to exclusion. For example, children who are looked after by the local authority are thirty times more likely to be excluded by the school for breaches of discipline. Boys in primary schools in Scotland are ten times more likely than girls to be excluded by the school. The procedures for school exclusions are outlined below followed by discussion of issues raised by this practice.

Two categories of exclusion, temporary exclusion and 'removed from the register' (of the current school), are recognized in the regulations governing school exclusions (Schools General (Scotland) Regulations, 1975). The period of exclusion for particular kinds of misbehaviour is not prescribed but Local Authorities usually place a ceiling of twenty school days on the term of the exclusion, with pupils being asked to leave the school for a period of between two days and four weeks depending on the nature of the incident. Schools would usually develop their own 'tariff' system where offences judged to be less serious, or first misdemeanours, would be punished with periods of up to three days. The tariff would usually rise on each subsequent occasion, if the pupil were judged to have again breached the disciplinary code. The lack of regulation of the period of exclusions leads to inequities with the same or similar 'offence' attracting widely differing punishments depending upon the school, the pupil, the teachers involved and other factors. While this situation leads to unfairness, it is also seen (by professionals) as having a positive side, as it allows schools to respond flexibly and in ways which take account of factors such as the personal circumstances of the pupil, as well as the seriousness of the disciplinary incident.

The second type of exclusion practised in Scotland - 'removed from the register' of the school - is used where the offence is regarded as serious, or where a particular pupil has had a number of previous temporary exclusions for earlier breaches of the code. In such cases and within the four-week period of the exclusion, the headteacher of the school would be invited to attend a meeting with representatives of the education authority, the pupil, his/her parents and their representatives so that the school placement offered to the pupil might be considered in a welfare as well as a disciplinary light. In spite of the intention to make the interests of the pupil central to the decision about placement, the process sometimes breaks down at this point, for example, when the alternative placement offered to the pupil and his family is unacceptable to them for reasons of distance from the family home. Pupils can therefore be out of the school system for much longer than the period of the original exclusion. The regulations in Scotland differ from those in England where three types of exclusion are practiced - 'fixed-term' (similar to 'temporary' discussed above), 'indefinite' and 'permanent'.



An empty school Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team Recording and reporting of exclusions
Since 1998, when the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department issued Guidance on Issues Concerning Exclusion from School: Circular 2/98 (SOEID, 1998), Local Authorities have been obliged to collect and report exclusions data on an annual basis. In July 2000, the results of the first annual survey of school exclusions were published (SEED, 2000) and the results of subsequent surveys have been published annually (SEED, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004). It is worth noting that these statistics are structured by a range of social factors: gender, stage of schooling, poverty indicators (free school meals), looked after by local authority and special educational needs (existence of a Record of Needs). It is significant that the data are organized in ways which make specific links between exclusion and factors in broader social exclusion. Statistics for 2001/02, published in February 2003, were subsequently revised to include the ethnic origin of the pupils as a factor in the analysis of data.

In Scotland, the availability of national data has been welcomed but there are fears that schools under-report exclusions in an attempt to maintain a positive public image for the school. There are a number of ways in which this might be done. For example, the school may send the pupil home as a 'cooling-off' period and as a means of ensuring his parent attends an interview within a day or two of the incident. At that interview and depending upon parental cooperation, the pupil might be accepted back into classes with no record of exclusion. Alternatively, where there have been a number of previous incidents, the parent may be persuaded to move the pupil to another school in the interests of the pupil themselves, but this would also prevent the recording of the exclusion. 'Internal' exclusions are a further means of maintaining a low rate of reported exclusions. In such cases, pupils are retained in the school in a 'base' or 'unit' away from the ordinary curriculum and their normal class. The growth in such separate provision in mainstream schools has been accompanied by debate about the quality of education offered in units/bases.

Although schools try to keep to a minimum the number of exclusions they sanction and report, other policy pressures force up rates of exclusion. Schools are judged by examination results and the need to improve results year on year may cause schools to be less tolerant of a range of pupils. Pupils whose behaviour is a problem are not only less likely themselves to achieve good results in Scottish Qualifications Agency awards but they may also have a negative effect on the performance of other pupils.

Reasons for exclusion
Young people and children are excluded for widely different reasons – sometimes even for non-attendance. Statistics on school exclusions produced by the Scottish Executive offer information on the reasons for exclusion. To take one example, in the 1999/2000 school session, there were 42,340 exclusions from Scottish schools, 397 of which were exclusions leading to removal form the register of the school concerned. Of the total number of exclusions, 23.9 per cent were recorded as being the result of 'general or persistent disobedience', 16.1 per cent were for verbal abuse of members of staff and 13 per cent were for the physical abuse of fellow pupils. These three categories are the most frequent reasons for exclusion but the statistics show a range of other categories of behaviour leading to exclusion such as 'aggressive or threatening behaviour'; 'insolent or offensive behaviour' and physical abuse of members of staff (2.7 per cent, 1,146 cases).

Comparisons with England are difficult because only permanent exclusion statistics are gathered and collated there. This is surprising because, if the Scottish experience is anything to go by, temporary or 'fixed-term' exclusions account for far more lost school time. Some figures are available, though. For example, the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) of the UK government, reporting on a survey in one large local authority, uses different categories for recording the reasons for exclusion but records that the single most common reason in England is cited as 'bullying, fighting and assaults on peers' (SEU, 2002) and that reason accounts for 30.1 per cent of exclusions in the LEA in question.

Appeals against exclusion
There is no right of appeal at the point of exclusion but the excluded pupil and his family can institute an appeal to the education authority during the period of the exclusion. Few families take up that option. In the session 1999/2000, only 0.3 per cent of exclusions were appealed against.

Effects of school exclusion
The cumulative effect on individuals of exclusions is difficult to gauge from official statistics. For example, although Scottish Executive statistics show that 9 per cent of those excluded in 1999/2000 were excluded five times or more during that session, the duration of these exclusions is not shown. It is not possible, therefore, to quantify the total number of school days lost to individual pupils in that session. This is unfortunate when the repeated and lengthening exclusion of some individuals is likely to indicate a higher level of social exclusion than that prevailing amongst the 61 per cent of excluded pupils in Scotland who were excluded just once during that same session. In England, concern about the repeated exclusion of a number of pupils led to the amendment of the exclusion regulations (Education (No. 2) Act, 1993) by the Standards and Framework Act (DFEE, 1998) which limited the aggregate number of fixed-term exclusions possible for an individual pupil to 45 days per school session. Whilst the specification of a ceiling to temporary exclusions might be desirable, MacRae et al (2003) point out that nine weeks is a significant proportion of time in a school year of 40 weeks.

A number of commentators (Munn et al, 2000; McDonald & Thomas, 2003) have written of the personal impact of school exclusion not just on pupils but also on their families. In these studies, parents are reported as experiencing a strong sense of powerlessness and hurt as a result of their child's exclusion from school.

Macrae, S., Maguire, M. & Milbourne, M. (2003) Social exclusion: exclusion from school
International Journal of Inclusive Education 7 (2): 89 – 101

McDonald, T. & Thomas, G. (2003) Parents’ reflections on their children being excluded
Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties 8 (2): 108 - 119

Munn, P., Lloyd, G. and Cullen, M.A. (2000) Alternatives to Exclusion from SchoolLondon, Paul Chapman Publishing





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