By Oliver Farrimond
Sex threats and stalking against teachers are among the reasons hundreds of Scots pupils have been sent home from school, it was revealed yesterday.
Shocking new statistics show that almost 1,500 pupils have been excluded from Edinburgh’s schools for unruly behaviour, including threats of sexual violence against staff and fellow pupils.
Other offences that led to the temporary suspension of 1,379 children – and 21 permanent expulsions – include indecent exposure and “slander and libel against staff” on social networking sites.
Nervous officials said that the figures were “very worrying” and pledged to combat delinquency in the Capital’s schools.
Sarah Boyack, Labour MSP for Edinburgh Central, said: “The figures are very worrying because it’s still a large number of incidents, and the council needs to re-double its efforts to reduce the number of exclusions, and tackle the root causes.
“One issue that is clearly out there now is the issue of social media networks.
“I do hope that the council looks at these newer types of reasons for disciplining students and targets them before the number of incidents grow.”
The highest number of exclusions – more than 500 – were for “general disobedience”, with 486 pupils also being sent home for verbally abusing staff.
However despite the litany of offences, only 21 were permanently expelled, mostly for verbal abuse against staff.
Nine were expelled for physically assaulting other pupils or staff, and two for “insolent or offensive behaviour”.
None of the pupils disciplined for stalking or threatening sexual violence against staff members were permanently excluded – instead they were remanded with a temporary suspension, usually lasting just a few days.
‘Serious cause of concern’
And although the overall number of temporary suspensions has declined, the general secretary of Scotland’s largest teaching union warned that impending budget cuts could see the figures begin to rise.
Colin Mackay, Edinburgh Secretary for the Education Institute of Scotland, said: “The fact that the overall number of exclusions is down slightly fills me with some dread about the forthcoming year, with the support for learning and behaviour management areas of schools subjected to budget cuts.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see the figure increase next year.”
He added: “One of the areas which we have been concerned with has been the number of violent incidents reported.
“If these numbers are getting into double figures, they are a serious cause of concern.”
In total, 628 pupils were temporarily excluded for violent behaviour, with a further 11 permanently expelled.
The figures, which are taken from the 2008/9 school year, apply mainly to the city’s secondary schools.
Labour’s city education spokesman, Meadows and Morningside councillor Paul Godzik, said: “It’s shocking that this is happening within our schools and it’s clear there does need to be strong discipline.
Certainly when you have threats of sexual violence and stalking, you would hope that the very toughest measures are taken.”
Councillor Marilyne MacLaren, Edinburgh’s education leader, said: “Exclusions and suspensions are always a last resort and our policy is to work to find alternatives.
“However, it is important that we get the message across that certain behaviour is not tolerated in our schools and strong action is sometimes needed.”