Schools have been warned that it is "never appropriate" to exclude pupils for "minor infringements" such as breaching school uniform codes or wearing jewellery, in a report published by the Children's Commissioner for England.
Dr Maggie Atkinson says pupils should only be excluded for safety reasons or to prevent disruption to learning. She claims reasons such as wearing the wrong shoes, too much make-up, or having the "wrong" haircut are not sufficient grounds for exclusion - especially if this is likely to disadvantage a gender, faith or ethnic group.
Her advice was given in a report in which she welcomed the falling number of exclusions in English schools but called for more research into "illegal practices" where schools send children home but the child's exit is not recorded as a formal exclusion.
The report showed that 5,740 children were permanently excluded from state-funded schools in 2009/10 and 179,800 young people excluded on a fixed-term basis at least once during that year.
John Connolly, Dr Atkinson's principal policy adviser for education, insists that the advice on school uniform did not amount to condoning defiant behaviour by pupils. He said:"We are not saying don't have uniform, we are not saying don't have rules about personal appearance, what we are saying is don't remove education for those reasons,". He also claims detentions and taking lunchtimes off students are more effective punishents and should be used instead.
Keeping young children in school
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: "It makes far more sense to invest in keeping young people in school rather than having to get them back on track once they have been excluded, or in the worst cases lost to the system.
"However, for that to happen, schools need support and extra resources to manage effectively children's emotional and behavioural problems.
"This support is being hugely affected by cuts to schools' budgets and those of local authorities and will lead to the most vulnerable children being deprived of vital services.