David Cameron is today detailing the Tories' plans to free schools of troublemakers. Yet the top line of this fantasy-policy is once again the abolition of exclusion appeals panels. As has been said on this blog before, this will make virtually no difference to school discipline, but could greatly increase the amount of time heads will have to spend in the courts. This is why the Tory schools minister Robin Squire invented the appeals panels in the first place; since then, successive Labour ministers have tightened the rules and membership so that, of over 9000 exclusions, just 130 are reinstated on appeal each year. Even heads are not infallible, and there will probably be at least as many cases overturned in costly court cases.
The Tories also want to stop good schools 'having' to take excluded pupils; in fact, the best schools are often very good at dealing with excluded pupils in small numbers, and they should play their part with other heads in deciding what happens to excluded pupils, whether to use pupil referral units or other placements. And for that to work, the money must follow the pupil: to suggest otherwise, as the Tories do by saying schools would not be 'penalised' is confused (the only 'penalty' imposed has been to ensure that money does indeed follow the pupil, so a school would forfeit some money for a pupil no longer on its books).
Discipline is usually worst in the poor performing schools; one reason it is so is that they are expected to take a disproportionate number of excluded pupils. PRUs have improved since 1997, and there are far more places in them; but the government should also look at more permanent special school placements for those with the most severe beahavioural problems, for whom no mainstream schools may be appropriate. But today's recycled and ill-thought through policies from the Conservatives are a pretty poor substitute for a coherent school discipline policy, and show no sign of having moved on from Michael Howard's brilliant strategy on the subject at the last election.