Academy put 'zero-tolerance' policy above pupil's education, tribunal finds

Tribunal concludes that SEND pupil's grades suffered as a result of the school's attempts to control his behaviour

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A tribunal has criticised a school for putting its zero-tolerance behaviour policy above the education of a child with special needs.

After hearing a claim made by the parents of Hayden Damiral, a pupil with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a diagnosis of epilepsy, against Burnt Mill Academy, in Essex, the tribunal concluded that efforts to control the 15-year-old's behaviour had compromised his education.

In its report, the panel said: “The question of Hayden’s actual education appears to have become secondary to the zero-tolerance policy of the school, in relation to his behaviour, with the result that a boy of average cognitive ability was not making the progress which potentially he could have been making.”

His parents had taken the school to a tribunal after claiming that it had failed to meet the Year 10 pupil's needs. The teenager had been given a fixed-term exclusion from school, as well as being excluded from a work placement. He was later permanently excluded.

His parents told the tribunal that the exclusions were a result of his disability, which led to difficult behaviour.

'A series of exclusions'

They also argued that his education had suffered as a result of his treatment at Burnt Mill. They said that, while his key stage 2 Sats results had shown him to be a child of average ability, his attainment levels had since dropped. He was now predicted only a grade 4 at GCSE in his core subjects.

The Burnt Mill Academy Trust, which runs the school, has stated in its behaviour policy that maintaining outstanding behaviour is a key priority. The policy adds that poor behaviour is a rarity and, when it is found, will be tackled by adults.

But the tribunal, which heard evidence last month, said: “The application of the behaviour policy, in relation to Hayden, was leading to increasing conflict, such that his education was becoming a series of...detentions and exclusions, which he was finding inexplicable.

“It was being imposed rigidly...Rather than continuing with this inflexible application of its policy, the [school] should have...to make reasonable adjustments for Hayden, who was being put at a substantial disadvantage.”

The tribunal ruled that the school should issue a letter of apology to Hayden, for its failure to make reasonable adjustments. It should also organise training for all school staff, to include positive behaviour-management techniques. A copy of its decision would then be placed on Hayden's school records.

However, the tribunal dismissed any suggestion that the 15-year-old's exclusion amounted to disability discrimination. It added that his exclusion was "a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim". It also found that the school "made considerable efforts to put elements in place to change the way in which education was provided to the student".

'Triggering anger'

Natasha Damiral, Hayden’s mother, told Tes that Hayden’s primary school had helped to build up his confidence – and that she had hoped that Burnt Mill would do the same.

“As a teacher, it’s hard if you’ve got a child misbehaving in class,” she said. “But there are ways you can support these children, without triggering the anger and behaviour that comes with ADHD.

“Every time he was in school, they excluded him. He was basically getting no education whatsoever, because he was excluded all the time. It worries me that this is happening a lot.”

A spokesperson for Burnt Mill Academy pointed out that it was a high-performing school, with high expectations for its pupils: "The school’s behaviour policy has been instrumental in securing outstanding behaviour.

"It is never an easy decision to exclude a child permanently and the school regrets that this was the outcome for this student. When making such a difficult decision, the future health and safety of staff and pupils have to be taken into account."

The school's spokesperson added that the school is currently recruiting an in-house educational psychologist, adding: "This clearly demonstrates the school’s commitment to continuous improvement and to ensuring that the needs of its pupils are fully met."

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