13th June 2003 at 01:00
Answers your questions

OUR relationships with the head in this comprehensive have always been harmonious, but now have reached crisis point. For the first time ever we overturned a permanent exclusion.

I was one of a panel of three experienced governors on the discipline committee, under an excellent chair. We have had a hard time from the head and are not being spoken to by several staff we have been on friendly terms with for years. Our decision was unanimous: the basis for the exclusion was shaky in the extreme, and some of the evidence suspect. Also the school's support for this student's difficulties had not been up to our normal impeccable standard. Our main fear was that the case would not stand up to an external appeal which would be worse for the school.

This is the situation every governing body dreads most. Emotions run high and even the most rational of heads and staff are likely to see it as a betrayal. But the fact remains that in carrying out this legal process we are there for the child and the family. Remembering how serious permanent exclusion is, we are honour-bound to decide against it if we feel that there is well-founded doubt about the "guilt" of the student or about whether the school has done everything humanly possible to support the pupils concerned.

We also have to look at the evidence, in the light of the possibility of an appeal, and be reasonably sure that a body of independent people will be satisfied. I agree that a decision against exclusion by an independent panel is worse for the school. But many professionals don't see it that way and regard a "hostile" decision by governors as a "betrayal" - by friends.

I assume that you accepted that the behaviour, if proven, did, under the school's published behaviour policy, merit permanent exclusion, and that the latter was also consistent with the latest government guidance. But you are quite correct in deciding that the evidence has to be robust and the school's record of relevant care acceptable. It is tough. I can only recommend you remain calm and friendly and don't overreact to the bitter accusations.

You will have other opportunities to show your loyalty to the school and your wisdom in dealing with difficult issues, and perhaps professionals will in time appreciate your courage and clear thinking and especially your moderate reaction to their hostility in this difficult case. It might be helpful if you offered to meet the teachers involved, with the head, to talk about the need for robust evidence and other relevant considerations.

But do allow for the intense pressure on today's secondary teachers and their daily contact with challenging behaviour. They do have to think on their feet.

The TES welcomes your queries. But please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers.

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