School inclusion units to work with charities to tackle exclusions

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Four Dundee secondaries are to open “inclusion” units with partners from outside the education sector in a long-term attempt to cut the highest pupil exclusion rates in Scotland.

Dundee City Council will work with Apex Scotland, a charity that engages with young offenders, and will copy a model that is said to have helped reduce exclusions significantly at Dunfermline High in Fife, in the last five years.

The rate of exclusions in Dundee is two-and-a-half times the Scottish average, equivalent to 107 per 1,000 pupils, and far higher than other big cities, according to official figures. 

The rate in Aberdeen is 62, in Glasgow 53 and Edinburgh 35. Dundee excluded 1,800 pupils in 2010/11 for transgressions including attacks on teachers, drug abuse and stalking.

The units will open from the start of the next school year, at a cost of about £70,000 a year each.

Alan Staff, chief executive of Apex Scotland, said the units were effective at helping pupils to understand the consequences of their actions. Pupils also learnt how to handle “flare-up” situations where they were prone to lose control, for instance by seeking the help of mentors within the school.

“Young offending often starts with repeat exclusions, which is not that surprising – if you’re excluded, who are you going to be hanging around with? Other people who have been excluded.

“Where we’ve operated, including Dunfermline High, we’ve seen quite dramatic improvements but it’s a team approach – we work with school staff.”

Rather than continuing with the curriculum outside the classroom, pupils in the inclusion units focus on their behaviour and possible triggers, including family crises.

“This is not a parachute model, nor a standalone approach. It is also absolutely not intended as an alternative to mainstream school – it’s about re-engaging with staff and other pupils constructively.”

Length of attendance could vary from a day or two, with no repeat visits, to far longer. The units in Dundee will also involve workers from the charity Includem, which works with vulnerable young people, and SkillForce, which visits schools across the UK to help those at risk of leaving with no skills or qualifications. 

For the first two years they will be funded by a consortium of sponsors including charitable trusts, with the council expected to pay in the longer term if they continue.

Fife Council has cut exclusion rates to 38 per 1,000 pupils since it started inclusion units. At Dunfermline High, the number of pupils suspended or expelled fell by almost 75 per cent.


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