Excluding disruptive children from school is the worst way of addressing poor behaviour, an American expert on preventing delinquency told education chiefs in Birmingham.
Professor David Hawkins, from the University of Washington, said separating children from their school for misbehaving and placing them in pupil referral units was like putting them in “deviancy training camps”.
Prof Hawkins said evidence-based research in the US showed measures that give more opportunity for anti-social pupils to mix and learn from “pro-social” children were far more effective.
He was speaking at a conference at the International Convention Centre examining how to shape children’s services in the city for future generations.
The event was also addressed by another American, Steve Aos, an expert in cost-effective pubic policy, who claimed shifting investment into early childhood education saved having to spend more money later on crime.
The visit by the US experts could have major implications on education policy and spending in Birmingham, where last year 283 pupils were permanently kicked out of school.
Figures for fixed-term exclusions for 2006-07 are not yet available, but the previous year saw nearly 9,000 pupils booted out of school temporarily.
Prof Hawkins said: “You can’t put kids into separate groups when they are misbehaving.”
He maintained it was right for society to separate criminal offenders, but it was wrong to separate difficult children from their community.
“The problem with that is in these groups these kids are bragging to one another about what they have done. ‘It can be counter-productive because there is not enough positive influence in that group to counter the deviancy training that is going on.”
Prof Hawkins said a far more effective approach was to take high risk youngsters and partner them with “pro-social” peers.
Exclusions did little more than “reward” youngsters who already hated school, he said.
“Much more effective is strategies where they are allowed to stay within the school setting. They may be excluded from the classroom where they can’t perform adequately. But the idea of kicking them out is saying ‘you don’t like being here, well OK, it is easier for you not to be here’.”
Birmingham City Council will shortly release details of its strategy for improving the outcomes for young children. More than £40 million will be spent on a range of “evidence-based” initiatives aimed at ensuring youngsters do not fall outside the system.
Tony Howell, the city’s head of children’s services, said: “If we can get some of these things right earlier, we will be faced with fewer difficulties and we can calculate the benefit to society in terms of the cost we are not having to spend on more costly intervention programmes later.”