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Legal issues

Teacher unions were delighted by two landmark rulings in the Lords last week that strengthen the position of staff who refuse to teach violent and disruptive pupils.

In the first case, members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers had refused to teach an inner London pupil who had been violent and abusive. In the second case, a 16-year-old Hertfordshire youth was taught in a separate class after attacking a fellow pupil.

In the first case, the five law lords held unanimously that industrial action had been lawful. In the second, they ruled by a majority that a violent pupil could be taught in isolation, after teachers refused him entry to class.

This result was anticipated by new advice on exclusions from the Department for Education and Skills which became effective in January. From now on, bullies and pupils excluded for being persistently and defiantly disruptive cannot expect to return to school, if governing bodies and appeal panels consider the exclusion was reasonable.

The guidance makes clear that, even in one-off cases, those guilty of serious actual or threatened assault, sex abuse, drug dealing, or carrying an offensive weapon, should not be reinstated.

But before expulsion, the head should be sure of a serious breach of school discipline policy. Heads must ensure that allegations are investigated fully and fairly. They must have reasonable evidence that the pupil's continued presence would seriously damage the education or welfare of other pupils or staff.

Before confirming exclusions the governors and appeal panel must decide whether, on balance, the pupil is guilty. Heads should be able to show they have followed the law and DfES guidance. Teachers must justify any action with evidence that a pupil could not be taught safely in normal classes.

See DfES 2003 guidance "Improving Behaviour and Attendance" and "Working together on School Exclusions"

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