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Schools face tighter human rights law

SCHOOLS could face legal action over staff suspensions, pupil admissions and exclusions when European human rights legislation becomes enshrined in British law.

The 1998 legislation, to be implemented in October, brings much of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law.

Under the new rules schools could be challenged if they suspend pupils for breaking rules on uniforms. Detentions where pupils collect litter or clean up graffiti could also be outlawed.

Teacher unions are considering how Article 3 of the convention which prohibits "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" could be used to protect teachers who face long and indefinite suspensions when allegations are made against them.

Kay Jenkins, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "We have had four members who were suspended for three years and a minority of cases where teachers have been out of school for 18 months and this legislation could be useful in those circumstances.

"Article 14 which covers discrimination will also bolster existing legislation."

The right to education and the right to a far hearing could mean pupil admissions and exclusions will be challenged.

Kathy James, professional advice secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This will undoubtedly have repercussions in schools and, at least initially, there will be a number of test cases brought to see which way the courts will go.

"The combination of the two rights may come into play where pupils are out of school for long periods of time and are not receiving a suitable alternative."

Article 5 says the detention of a minor can occur for the purpose of "educational supervision", potentially limiting what schools choose to do with pupils during detention.

Secondary Heads Association president-elect Richard Fawcett said sanctions that involved pupils "doing something useful" such as picking up litter could be a contentious issue under Article 5.

Demands from groups of parents for separate schools could be given added impetus by Article 2. It says that the state should respect the right of parents to ensure that education and teaching conforms with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

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