Legal threat over exclusions

Clare Dean and Karen Thornton report from the National Association of Head Teachers' conference in Jersey where the mood is defiant.

FORCING schools to reinstate excluded violent and disruptive pupils could result in High Court battles.

The National Association of Head Teachers is considering legal action against the appeals panels which are returning an escalating number of troublemakers to the classroom.

In the past few weeks, two London secondary schools were forced to reinstate pupils who had threatened other children with knives - in one case a carving knife.

And in another south London school, a child given a second chance after hitting a teacher repeated the offence three weeks later.

Headteachers meeting in Jersey this week for the NAHT's annual conference reported that parents had complained to the police about bullying and aggression in schools.

Mick Brookes, the association's president, blamed the decline in children's behaviour on badly-behaved footballers and pop stars as well as a "general malaise".

He said: "Too many young people come into our schools with the attitude 'You're not going to make me behave, you can't make me do anything'. We're all for inclusion, but not inclusion at any prce."

The Government is committed to cut the number of pupils excluded from school by one-third by 2002. Last year 10,000 children were excluded compared to 12,000 in 1998.

But the NAHT claims ministerial guidance on exclusions is designed simply to meet their target rather than sort out difficult situations.

The union says that while ministers accept that violence could justify a permanent exclusion, even after a first offence, this message did not seem to have reached the appeals panels. The panels are advised by local authorities.

David Hart, general secretary, said there was now only a limited number of options open to headteachers. They could apply for judicial review of the panel's decision; refuse to re-admit the pupil; or exclude the pupil again.

He said headteachers must have the right to exclude where the health, safety and welfare or education of others was threatened, even if this meant breaching government guidelines or defying appeals panel rulings.

The panels, whose decisions are legally binding, are made up of between three to five members of the public who are appointed by the local education authority. They must not have been involved in the original decision to exclude the child.

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