Warning to schools over exclusions
Schools have been warned that it is "never appropriate" to exclude pupils for "minor infringements" such as breaching school uniform codes or wearing jewellery in a report published by the Children's Commissioner for England.
Pupils should only be excluded for safety reasons or to prevent disruption to learning and not for reasons such as wearing the wrong shoes, too much make-up, or having the "wrong" haircut - especially where this is more likely to disadvantage a gender, faith or ethnic group, Dr Maggie Atkinson said.
Her advice was given in a report in which she welcomed the falling number of exclusions in English schools but called for more research into "illegal practices" where schools send children home but the child's exit is not recorded as a formal exclusion.
John Connolly, Dr Atkinson's principal policy adviser for education, insisted that the advice on school uniform did not amount to condoning defiant behaviour by pupils. He said: "We are not saying don't have uniform, we are not saying don't have rules about personal appearance, what we are saying is don't remove education for those reasons.
"By all means use detention or internal exclusion or take lunchtime off them ... actually what we have found is that is more likely to change behaviour than repeated short-term exclusions anyway. The test that we would set on this is that if you are not hurting yourself or anyone else and you are not stopping anyone else from learning, those should be the criteria for whether or not it is OK to exclude," he added.
Dr Atkinson said current exclusion guidance stated that it was not appropriate to exclude a pupil on the basis of minor infringements such as wrong coloured shoes or too much make-up. She said this had been removed from revised guidance which was issued just before Christmas for consultation.
The report showed that 5,740 children were permanently excluded from state-funded schools in 2009/10 and 179,800 young people excluded on a fixed-term basis at least once during that year. The strongest predictor of being excluded from school, either permanently or on a fixed-term basis, was having special educational needs, followed by being black Caribbean, for permanent exclusion, or male, for fixed-term exclusions.
Dr Atkinson added that her inquiry had uncovered "compelling evidence" of a number of illegal exclusions made by schools. These included unrecorded short-term exclusions to allow children to "cool off", and students being sent home and not allowed back until after a meeting has taken place with their parents. Where parents were unwilling or unable to attend a meeting the illegal exclusion could last for a week or more.
Dr Atkinson said: "Excluding the child simply by saying 'You are not very happy here, are you? Why don't you not come back next Monday?' is unacceptable. It is irresponsible. Those working with children who are already vulnerable and may be living in very difficult and complicated and perhaps chaotic households would tell you that if you simply send a child home and you don't know what you are sending them to, you are in dereliction of your duty, and I would agree."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "Unless there is good behaviour in schools, teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn. Schools need to be able to exclude disruptive pupils as a last resort: to enforce non-negotiable school rules, to protect staff and students and to guarantee that excluded children get the support they need. Our policy on exclusions is the right one, and we will continue to support it. Obviously unofficial exclusions are unlawful. All schools must follow the legal exclusion process."