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Agenda

Joan Sallis answers your questions. Some schools in our area use permanent exclusion more freely than others, particularly in cases involving drugs. This seems unfair, as it makes for some schools having a reputation for "better discipline", while the rest of us have to accommodate more than our share of others' rejects.

We hesitate to resort to permanent exclusion for first offenders found in possession, especially if they are young, though at the other end of the scale we would take a strong line with older pupils trafficking in drugs. Can nothing be done to encourage common standards?

For the most part, only voluntarily. The DFE offers a certain amount of guidance both on exclusion procedures and on attitudes to drug abuse, but nobody lays down criteria.

Government policies in the past 15 years have made schools more independent, but there are also factors which increase behaviour problems and make it more difficult to contain them. The existence of grant-maintained schools, which have their own admission rules and which are subject to fewer checks on their decisions, also works against common standards, as does selection where it exists. Finally, of course, the individual circumstances which play a part in an exclusion decision do vary.

But I would add that in local education authority schools, the authority itself has a legal role in exclusions and may occasionally intervene, and appeals to independent tribunals tend (I wouldn't put it higher) to provide some check on excessive severity.

Local authorities may also legally direct any school (including GM-schools) to admit an excluded pupil, and many will try to use this power as a way of avoiding gross exportimport imbalances. Some authorities also advise schools and encourage them to talk to each other about their policies.

If you are a head and there is no local forum of heads you could try to start one, and likewise if you are a governor you may be able to encourage debate about these issues through your local governing bodies' association if you have one.

In many areas with no association there are regular meetings of chairs or other representatives of governing bodies. The fact that governing bodies themselves have a role in deciding whether a pupil should be permanently excluded means that there is some scope for reducing differences through discussion.

We are having a major extension to our school, a new science block. I am head of science and a teacher governor. Because of unexpected problems the work is going to cost more than budgeted, and I gather the local authority has asked us to agree to certain deletions to keep it within the budget. Now I hear that the chairman has seen the local authority architect and the builder on the site, and has agreed to their proposals.

AgendaPanel = I am not happy because it means economising on storage space, which in laboratories is a safety issue. The money could easily have been saved on something which we could add later (like landscaping) which is an amenity parents might have been prepared to fund. Nobody in my department was consulted and, as far as I can discover, no other governors. Has the chair a right to do this?

The chair has no right to act on behalf of governors without their specific mandate, except in an emergency when there isn't time to call a special meeting. A governors' premises committee might well agree in principle to plans being modified in a case like this and authorise the chair to agree the details with the architect, but they must have done this formally and consciously for the delegation to be correct.

Even this I wouldn't regard as good practice if the changes were significant: the whole governing body, in consultation with appropriate staff, should accept responsibility. This is a common situation with capital projects and, like you, I think it is nearly always wiser to postpone some separate feature which is easy to add rather than economise on space or the quality of basic materials.

What has your head's involvement been I wonder? Remember that any three governors can ask for a special meeting if it is not too late to reopen the matter.

Questions should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782 3200

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