Under plans announced today by education minister Peter Peacock, disaffected pupils will be offered co-ordinated support through a Pupil Inclusion Network.
It will build on work currently undertaken individually by these groups to develop disaffected young people's personal and social skills, encourage them to take up learning opportunities which prepare them for adulthood, and support their families where there are wider difficulties.
Mr Peacock said:
'Pupil disaffection, which can have many causes, can lead to truancy, indiscipline, under achievement and general low attainment - limiting the life and career choices available to young people when they leave school.
'It is therefore vital that we take action to re-engage these young people in learning and ensure that don't miss out on the education opportunities available to them.
'I heard at the summit about some of the excellent projects operated by voluntary organisations throughout Scotland to help disaffected pupils find a route back into school - often after their problems and behaviour had resulted in exclusion.
'I have also visited a number of projects working with excluded young people - for example Blackford Brae in Edinburgh - and been impressed by the approaches they are talking with young people to help resolve their problems.
'Much can and must be learned from this work to prevent disaffected youngsters turning their backs on education and learning, and ensure that they are supported to reach their full potential.
'The new network will share good practice between mainstream education and alternative providers to help us meet the challenges we face in supporting disaffected pupils and their families, who are often living in difficult and trying circumstances.'
Graeme Dawson, chief executive of Right Track, a Glasgow-based organisation contracted by the city council to develop the skills of excluded young people, said:
'Right Track are fully supportive of the proposed network, which will hopefully provide a strong voice for the voluntary sector in helping shape the future provision for those young people most at risk of being excluded from the education system.
'The potential for the executive, local authorities and the voluntary sector to work in partnership to provide a coherent framework to support these vulnerable young people is an opportunity to be welcomed. The network will allow us to do this more effectively, while providing the opportunity for us to highlight areas of good practise and raise joint areas of concern.'
The Pupil Inclusion Network Scotland will be developed by a steering group of voluntary sector organisations and the executive.
It will provide regular opportunities for these organisations to meet and discuss new approaches to work with disaffected pupils, and will consider emerging issues with local authority partners. The network will also enable voluntary sector organisations to comment on education policy and bring the views of this sector into discussions with other stakeholders.
The executive surveyed each of Scotland's local authorities and found there are more than 150 providers working in some form of partnership between them and schools to meet the needs of disaffected pupils, in and out of school.
Councils may use the£11m a year Alternatives to Exclusion funding provided by the Executive - on the back of the Discipline Task Group's report - to support this work. Further funding will be announced to support the network itself, once its remit has been agreed in full.
The executive issued guidance on curriculum flexibility in 2001, which encourages authoritie s and schools to consider how to develop the most appropriate learning programmes for individual pupils - including those who are at risk of becoming disaffected.
Many organisations in the voluntary sector are helping authorities and schools to take a fresh approach for youngsters with high quality learning and personal development opportunities.
Examples of schemes:
The Prince's Trust operates the XL Club programme of which there are 70 across Scotland. These clubs offer S3 pupils, who are identified as having a range of difficulties at school, a programme of learning and personal development, in which they take responsibility for their own progress. This programme is offered as an alternative to a standard grade course and aims to encourage and motivate pupils so they can continue and succeed in other aspects of school life.
The Blackford Brae Community Support Team (CST) is based at Blackford Brae School, works in 11 primary schools in NW and SW Edinburgh, and has been part of Edinburgh council's 'Working Together' strategy since 1999.
It is a team of social workers, teachers and community support workers who work with primary school children who are at risk of losing their mainstream school place because of severe emotional and behavioural difficulties. The team works with pupils and families in a holistic way to bring about positive changes at home and in communities to link children in to safe and appropriate activities, while the class teacher effects changes in the school context.
The Aberlour Crannog Project has three bases in Dumfries & Galloway, and works in partnership with the local authority to provide intensive support for looked after young people to help them to overcome barriers to learning. Crannog provides support to young people, their families, schools and other agencies to provide young people-centred programmes of support and learning opportunities that enable them to re-engage with education and plan for their future.
The revised g uidance on exclusions issued to local authorities in November highlights that authorities must make provision for excluded pupils. Most will go back into mainstream education after a few days. However, for longer term exclusions, alternative providers often work in partnership with schools to support the young people during that period and during their re-integration into the mainstream system.
Commenting, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities' education spokesman Ewan Aitken said:
'Whilst we fully back any support for disaffected school pupils it should not be forgotten that that disenchantment with school is often a symptom of what is happening in life outside school.
'Low levels of self esteem can also lead to unhappiness at school and any support programme needs to take account of all of these issues as well.
'I would also hope that as councils move down the new community schools route, we start to see a more holisitic approach to children's engagement in education.'