Alternatives to Exclusion from School


Pamela Munn, Gwynedd Lloyd & Mairi Ann Cullen

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Dedication

    To Margaret Johnstone, a good friend and colleague who contributed substantially to the research as a member of the team. The book is a belated present on her retirement.


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    Notes on the Authors

    Pamela Munn is Professor of Curriculum Research and Associate Dean (Postgraduate) in the Faculty of Education, University of Edinburgh. She has led major research studies on school discipline, exclusion and truancy. She has published widely in this area and has been associated with a number of developments aimed at helping schools share their experience of positive approaches to discipline. She is currently the director of the Scottish Schools Ethos Network and of the Anti-Bullying Network and has been a consultant to the Scottish Office on New Community Schools. She has recently returned to Edinburgh from a three month stay at the Graduate School of Education, University of Tokyo, where she was visiting Professor of Education.

    Gwynedd Lloyd is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Equity Studies and Special Education at the University of Edinburgh. She has researched, written about and worked with children in difficulty Recent publications have included articles on counselling skills in education, on the exclusion of Traveller pupils, on gender and emotional and behavioural difficulties and on inclusion and ADHD.

    Mairi Ann Cullen is a Senior Research Officer in the Department of Professional and Curriculum Studies at the National Foundation for Educational Research. She has worked on, and written about, a number of research projects relating to special educational needs, disaffection/disengagement and exclusion from school. Most recently, she has led research projects on alternative curriculum programmes for 14–16-year-olds in England and Wales and on the delivery of the curriculum to disengaged young people in Scotland. She has also worked in, and carried out research on, adult and community education.


    Exclusion from school is a major concern in the United Kingdom and ways of preventing it feature strongly in the Labour government's commitment to tackle social exclusion more generally. Exclusion from school can be permanent, the excluded pupil being refused readmission and having to seek alternative provision; or fixed term where readmission after a specific time is granted provided certain conditions are met; or informal where a pupil is sent home but no record of this is kept. Most research has focused on permanent exclusions, on mapping the characteristics of permanently excluded pupils and on the impact of exclusions on pupils and their families. Research has also highlighted the estimated financial costs of permanent exclusion.

    This book grew out of a research project, funded by the Scottish Office, to take a broader look at exclusion. The project was to map the extent of exclusions and gather information on excluded pupils but it was also to explore in-school alternatives to exclusion. This aspect of the work was conducted through case studies of ‘matched pairs’ of schools in terms of size and the socio-economic status of pupils attending, but different in their use of exclusion. A starting point of the book, then, was the wish to share findings on in-school alternatives to exclusion within and beyond Scotland.

    An important message of the book is that schools and teachers can make a difference to young people's emotional and social development as well as to their cognitive-intellectual development. They can improve pupils' self-esteem, can give confidence and can prevent learning problems becoming behaviour problems. For many children with difficulties in their families or communities, school can be a safe and supportive refuge. The importance of school to children who are being looked after out of their original families has often been stated, although equally the educational failure of such pupils is documented.

    It is important to make clear that children's personal and social development takes place through the everyday operation of the normal curriculum and, indeed, all children may find opportunities to explore difficult aspects of their lives through drama, art, free or structured play and through typical subjects on the timetable as well as through slots labelled personal and social development or specialist provision. School, however, is much more than the subjects on the timetable and a focus of the research was on the hidden curriculum or school ethos as a vehicle for preventing exclusion as well as on understanding particular in-school alternatives. School routines, values and practices send messages about who and what is valued and about the expectations of the kind of relationships that will exist between teachers and pupils. The importance of school ethos in creating a positive approach to school discipline is discussed in Chapter 4.

    The book is more than a report of the project in three ways. First, it goes beyond in-school alternatives to consider the effectiveness of out-of-school provision and to raise questions about how to conceptualise effectiveness. Secondly, it considers perspectives on exclusion from other countries, particularly the USA. Thirdly, it puts exclusion from school in the broader policy context of social exclusion and the so-called ‘Third Way’ of tackling social problems. This last issue is considered mainly in the concluding chapter. The intention is not to undervalue the connections between schooling on the one hand and social and economic structures and relationships on the other. Nor would we contest the needs of teachers to develop a ‘meta language’ to explain and describe what they do and why they do it. Nevertheless, it is of limited practical value to teachers to be continually reminded that there are severe social and economic structural constraints on their practice. Rather our approach has been to describe and explain alternatives to exclusion at the level of the day-to-day experience of teachers and pupils. This may be read as giving greater weight to the agency of individual schools than is warranted in Britain at the end of the twentieth century. Yet the examples of alternatives to exclusion come from real schools coping with the complicated and multi-faceted job of teaching. These schools are tackling exclusion in a context in which there is:

    • an increase in the psychosocial problems among young people (Rutter and Smith, 1995)
    • an increased rate of family breakdown through divorce and a rise in the number of single parent families
    • a widening gap between the poor and others (EIS, 1998; Poverty Alliance, 1998; Mortimore and Whitty, 1999)
    • a cultural response to alienating and alienated behaviour, which sees excluded pupils as culprits rather than victims (DfE, 1994; Blyth and Milner, 1994) or as having little entitlement to education (Lloyd-Smith, 1993; Abbots and Parsons, 1993)
    • challenge to traditional notions of masculine and feminine identity and behaviour (Weiner et al., 1997)
    • a government policy to promote a quasi-market in schooling. Such policies include parental choice of school, devolved school management, the publication of comparative school performance in league tables and targets for schools in terms of specific improvements in pupil attainments. These policies are seen as producing a general climate in which schools are reluctant to admit or maintain pupils who threaten their image or performance (Munn et al., 1998; Parsons, 1999).

    Although the nuances of the context vary in the different constituent parts of the United Kingdom, the context itself is sufficiently pervasive to affect the day-to-day reality of schooling across the land. The Scottish focus of the research should not detract from the potential applicability of its findings to schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    Chapter 1 begins with an account of the impact of exclusion on young people and their families using their voices to convey the reality of exclusion and its effects. Chapter 2 places these accounts in terms of statistics on exclusion and raises questions about what counts as a high or low excluding school. It provides answers to these questions with examples of different ways of measuring the exclusion rates of the schools involved in the Scottish research.

    Chapter 3 considers the policy context in which alternatives to exclusion operate. It describes English and Scottish legislation on exclusion and summarises the key differences between them. It highlights policy and practice dilemmas which schools face in trying to avoid excluding pupils.

    Chapter 4 draws extensively on the findings of our research to highlight four key aspects of school ethos which are seen as underpinning exclusion practice. These are teacher beliefs about the purpose of teaching and who counts as an acceptable pupil; the flexibility of the curriculum on offer; schools' relations with the ‘outside world’; and decision-making structures about exclusion. The chapter then outlines examples of strategies for developing a positive ethos, drawn from development work in Scotland, and concludes with a description of the Scottish Schools Ethos Network, a vehicle for encouraging school self-evaluation of ethos and promoting positive developments.

    Chapter 5 describes whole-school responses to challenging behaviour. These range from sanctions and the use of internal exclusion, to the positive role which on-site units and behaviour support staff can play. Examples of in-school alternatives in action are given, using findings from our research.

    Chapter 6 changes focus from whole-school level responses to responses focusing on the needs of individual pupils and their teachers. There is a discussion of the therapeutic continuum and of what non-specialist teachers can offer pupils in difficulty in terms of a therapeutic experience and counselling skills. Examples are given in this chapter of preventing exclusion through teaching pupils specific survival skills. It concludes by drawing attention to teachers' needs for support and supervision in these roles.

    Out-of-school provision for children in trouble is the focus of Chapter 7. There are still considerable numbers of pupils out of mainstream school and/or in special provision for those with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. This chapter reviews the difficulties of conceptualising and measuring the effectiveness of such provision. It also summarises the arguments for and against the existence of alternative provision.

    Chapter 8 compares British policy and practice on exclusion with that of other countries with broadly similar education systems, particularly the USA. Britain has been prone to borrow policy and practices from the USA, especially in the field of special education. Comparisons are made in terms of rates of exclusion, concepts of inclusion and of characteristics of excluded pupils. A number of common themes and issues across countries are identified.

    Finally, Chapter 9 considers the broader policy context of social exclusion and asks what is realistic for schools to achieve in this context.

    There are two appendices. Appendix 1 summarises key features of the Scottish education system, for those English and other readers to whom it is unfamiliar; while Appendix 2 describes the Children's Hearing System, the welfare based approach to children in trouble.

    The book, of course, does not provide a recipe for tackling exclusion nor a recipe for change. Schools have individual histories, traditions and contexts which make it impractical to import ‘what works’ in one context unproblematically to another. Neither, however, does the book suggest that every school must find its own path to reducing exclusion in an uncharted landscape. It offers a number of key contour lines for schools to use in planning their journey to provide alternatives to exclusion. These range from a critical review of the school's ethos to the use of in-school units and bases, inter-agency working, working with parents and the employment of counselling skills by teachers. The aim is to provide starting points for schools to review their policy and practice by providing real examples of a number of alternatives to exclusion in action, and placing these alternatives in a wider policy context within the UK and internationally.


    Many people have contributed to the ideas and evidence contained in this book. Our sincere thanks to all those who participated in the empirical phase of the research, especially to headteachers, teachers, educational psychologists, social workers and education authority officials. All took part very willingly, sparing time to be interviewed and completing lengthy questionnaires. The work of the research team benefited greatly from the constructive advice and support of an advisory committee, chaired by Bob McKay, Director of Education, Perth and Kinross Council. The committee met regularly over the two and a half years of the project and provided help at key stages. Colleagues in the Faculty of Education encouraged us, criticised some of our ideas and generally provided a supportive environment in which to develop our thinking. Lesley Scullion typed successive drafts with her customary efficiency and good humour. Our respective husbands and children tolerated the disruption to family and social life which writing a book necessarily entails. Marianne Lagrange at Sage provided the right amount of friendly encouragement as we began to fall behind our original timetable. We appreciate her tolerance and support. We are also grateful to the Scottish Office for funding a series of research projects on indiscipline in school which has permitted us to undertake a larger scale of empirical work than would otherwise have been possible.

    Finally, the book owes a great deal to the young people and their parents who had experienced exclusion and were prepared to talk about it and the impact it had on their lives. Some interviews meant the reliving of painful experiences for them as they recounted the other stresses and strains to which exclusion was added. The words of Wayne T* sum up the reasons most were willing to take part:

    Well, see when [my teacher] asked me if I wanted to do this and she said what it was about and she said it would make a difference and all that, I said, ‘Aye, definitely’. If I knew it was just that nothing would be getting done about it, I wouldn't have bothered, but because it's getting all recorded, I don't mind talking.

    We hope this book contributes to making a difference to exclusion policy and practice.

    * All names of pupils, parents and schools are fictitious to protect their identity.

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    Appendix 1: Education in Scotland: Key Facts and Figures

    The information in this appendix is largely summarised from Clark and Munn (1997) Education in Scotland, published by Routledge. More detailed information can be found there and in Bryce and Humes (1999) Scottish Education, published by Edinburgh University Press. Information on Scottish education statistics and policy can be found on the Scottish Executive website at

    • Scotland has a population of about five million and is part of the United Kingdom (which includes England, Wales and Northern Ireland) with a total population of around 58 million. It is the most sparsely populated part of the United Kingdom.
    • There are high levels of poverty in some areas. For example in 1995 about 20 per cent of the school population were entitled to free school meals; this varied from about 6 per cent in Borders Region to around 40 per cent in Glasgow.
    • According to the 1991 census, 98.7 per cent of the population in Scotland were white. Thus only 1.3 per cent of the population were from ethnic minorities of whom the vast majority were of Pakistani or Indian origin.
    • Education is a devolved responsibility to the Scottish Parliament. An Education Minister, who is a member of the Scottish Executive, is supported by two junior Ministerial colleagues. There is also a Parliamentary Select Committee.
    • The national administration of school education is carried out by civil servants in the Scottish Education Department, now Scottish Executive Education Department, in Edinburgh. There has been a separate education civil service in Scotland for well over a hundred years.
    • Numbers of Her Majesty's Inspectors fluctuate around 100. They are led and managed by a senior chief inspector who is also the principal professional adviser to the Scottish Executive. HMI carry out inspections on the performance of schools, teacher education institutions and education authorities. They also frequently take the lead in major curriculum and other policy development. (Ofsted does not operate in Scotland.)
    • There are 32 single tier local authorities. These were established in 1996 and replaced a system of nine Regional and three Island Authorities, having responsibility for education. All authorities have an Education Committee, with the majority of members being councillors. All also have a Director of Education who leads and manages education officials, curriculum advisers and development officers.
    • The policy emphasis is on school improvement through school self-evaluation, with schools being provided with a set of national and local guides to help them assess their achievements and plan for improvements.
    • The General Teaching Council, in existence since 1966, regulates entry to the teaching profession and mainstream professional standards. All teachers in state primary and secondary school are required to be registered with the Teaching Council.
    • Most schools are comprehensive and take boys and girls.
    • Catholic schools are part of the state sector.
    • There is a small number of independent schools run without any aid from public funds. Less than 6 per cent of the pupil population attends these schools.
    • There are about 400 secondary schools and 2,300 primary schools and 200 special schools. The independent sector has over 100 schools, many of which are in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Table A1.1 provides details drawn from the Scottish Executive website.

      Table A1.1. Numbers of Scottish schools and teachers
      SchoolsPupil numbers
      Pre-school (EA)1,200
      Pre-school (private/voluntary)1,10060,000
      Independent primary7311,197
      Independent secondary5714,955

    • There are no sixth form colleges. The two formerly grant maintained schools were re-absorbed into local authorities by the Education Act 2000.
    • Children spend seven years in primary school, entering around the age of five and leaving around the age of twelve. They spend a minimum of four years at secondary school, the statutory leaving age being 16, although increasing numbers stay on for either one or two further years.
    • Pre-school provision includes state, voluntary sector and private nurseries and playgroups.
    Curriculum and Assessment
    • There is no national curriculum as in England and Wales.
    • There is a curriculum programme for 5–14-year-olds constructed in terms of five broad areas, and designed to promote breadth, balance and continuity in children's learning. Each area has a guideline advising on curriculum and assessment. The five areas are Language, Mathematics, Expressive Arts, Environmental Studies and Religious and Moral Education. National testing takes place only in English and mathematics with pupils taking tests when teachers believe they are ready to do so. The tests are used as confirmation of teacher judgements and results remain confidential to the school, pupil and parents. There are no performance tables of primary schools based on national test results.
    • The five areas of the curriculum in primary school transform themselves into eight ‘modes’ which structure the curriculum in secondary school. A common course is followed by pupils in the first two years of secondary. Years three and four culminate in Standard Grade examinations with most pupils taking seven or eight, which include one subject from each mode. There are three main grades of assessment, Credit, General and Foundation.
    • The upper secondary curriculum has recently been reformed to introduce a unified system of curriculum and assessment to cover all academic and vocational education beyond 54 and below the level of higher education. The benchmark qualification remains the Higher but there will be levels above this, Advanced Higher, and staging posts towards Higher, Intermediate Levels 1 and 2. There are also Scottish Group Awards planned, some of which will be broadly based while others will be more specialised.
    • There is one national examinations body, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, following the merger of the Scottish Examination Board and the Scottish Vocational Education Council in 1997.

    Appendix 2: The Scottish Children's Hearing System

    The welfare orientation of the Children's Hearing System is an important influence on the culture of work with children and young people in difficulty in Scotland. The Hearing System began operating in 1971, following legislation in 1968 based on the Kilbrandon Report, which argued strongly for a social education principle rather than a punitive approach to children in difficulty (Scottish Office, 1964). The system provides a structure of intervention and support for children who are considered to require compulsory measures of care and/or control. Decisions are made on the basis of a comprehensive assessment of the child's needs and in his/her best interests. The Hearings offer a formal process in an informal setting, where parents and children can understand the proceedings and the information on which decisions are made.

    There is a broad range of criteria for referral including being beyond the control of parents, not being adequately cared for, exposure to moral danger, abuse, non-attendance at school, solvent abuse, and offending (the full list is given below). The legislation was deliberate in placing offending last on the list of grounds of referral, to emphasise that the Hearing system was for children in difficulty, including, but not exclusively, those who commit crimes. The largest number of referrals does involve offending but many of these will be diverted and never involve attending a Hearing. In recent years referrals for child abuse have increased most rapidly, in parallel with the greater recognition of, and response to, abuse in other Western countries.

    The Reporter, often a qualified solicitor, is the gatekeeper to the system, receiving referrals and initially assessing their sufficiency of evidence and the likelihood that the child may be in need of compulsory measures of intervention. In many cases the Reporter may decide that the family is coping well and does not require support, or that they would be willing to accept support informally. There is a broad consensus that formal intervention should be a last resort. Decisions about intervention are made at Hearings by lay people, trained part-time volunteers from the community, called Panel Members. It was intended that the Panel should represent the community in its composition. A recent substantial research project, funded by the Scottish Office, found that this ‘has remained an important (although as yet not yet fully achieved) aspiration’ (Hallett et al., 1998). Hearings may impose supervision orders, at home or in a residential setting, but may also require a range of other actions. The Children Act (Scotland) 1995 widened the scope of the Hearings by referring to the wider role of councils in children's care and welfare beyond that of the social work department. Thus a requirement of action may be placed also on an educational establishment.

    The research report mentioned earlier concluded that:

    Overall there was widespread support for the Children's Hearing System and the principle on which it was based, despite some evidence of tensions and difficulties in practice. These included concerns about its capacity to meet the needs of some children and young people referred (particularly young people who continue to offend and those referred on the grounds of non-attendance at school), widespread frustration about the shortage of resources and an acknowledgement that the emphasis on participation, informality and the provision of help in a welfare framework may be less apparent to some children, young people and parents appearing at the hearing than it is to others.

    (Hallett et al., 1998)
    Grounds for Referral of Children to Reporter and to Children's Hearing
    Occasions for Referring a Child to the Reporter

    A child may be in need of compulsory measures of supervision if any of the following conditions is satisfied with respect to him (sic) (Section 52(2) of The Children (Scotland) Act 1995).

    • is beyond control of any relevant person;
    • is falling into bad associations or is exposed to moral danger;
    • is likely – i) to suffer unnecessarily; or ii) be impaired seriously in his health or development;

    due to a lack of parental care;

    • is a child in respect of whom any of the offences mentioned in Schedule 1 to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975 has been committed;
    • is, or is likely to become, a member of the same household as a child in respect of whom any offences mentioned in Schedule 1 to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975 has been committed;
    • is, or is likely to become, a member of the same household as a person who has committed any of the offences mentioned in Schedule 1 to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975;
    • is, or is likely to become, a member of the same household as a person in respect of whom an offence under Section 2A to 2C of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 1976 (incest and intercourse with a child by a step-parent or person in position of trust) has been committed by a member of that household;
    • has failed to attend school regularly without reasonable excuse;
    • has committed an offence*;
    • has misused alcohol or any drug, whether or not a controlled drug within the meaning of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971;
    • has misused a volatile substance by deliberately inhaling its vapour, other than for a medical purpose;
    • is being provided with accommodation by a local authority under Section 25, or is the subject of a parental responsibilities order obtained under Section 86 of the Act and, in either case, his behaviour is such that special measures are necessary for his adequate supervision in his interest or the interest of others.

    Information about the Scottish Children's Hearing System is available on the website of the Scottish Executive (

    *There are a small number of children, who commit serious offences, who are still dealt with in court.

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