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Drug fear 'distracts' appeal panels

PUPILS thrown out of school may not get a fair hearing because appeals panels are distracted by the fight against drugs and gang culture, says new research.

It identifies an "unconscious bias" as members of exclusion panels put the interests of discipline before their role as independent adjudicators.

The Liverpool John Moores University research found that parents of excluded children lack confidence in the system. Only 36 per cent thought they would get a fair hearing which may explain why only 8 per cent appeal.

However, parents are now four times more likely to appeal against exclusions than nine years ago. Seventy per cent felt the exclusion was unnecessary.

Permanent exclusions have risen dramatically with 12,700 in 199697 and 1,128 appeals. In 199091 there were only 2,900 exclusions and 92 appeals.

Ministers hope to tackle the problem by encouraging the use of continued on page 2 continued from page 1special on-site units - or "sin-bins" - for disruptive pupils, a proposal made in the recent Excellence in Cities document.

The Liverpool research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, looked at 48 appeal hearings in seven education authorities. Researchers also heard from 289 parents, 99 education authorities, 111 appeal panel members, 106 heads and 67 school governors.

The researchers said panels called for a more "authoritarian approach in schools in response to indiscipline" and thought their role was to "reinforce the fight against gang culture or the drugs culture rather than simply acting as independent adjudicators."

Questioning was frequently stern and occasionally intimidating, a factor adding to parents' dissatisfaction. Middle-class parents were twice as likely to appeal as blue-collar parents, but those with children with special needs were less likely to appeal, even though their offspring were more likely to be excluded.

Convened by local education authorities, the panels are made up of lay people and others with educational experience, including teachers and governors.

The report recommends better information for parents and more training for panel members.

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