26th June 1998 at 01:00
Answers your questions

Q My son was excluded from school for five days (not long before GCSEs) for being in the company of a boy alleged to be trading in drugs. I believed my son was innocent and I appealed to the governors with a view to hearing the evidence for myself and, if justified, getting the record changed. To my amazement, the governors decided not to meet to hear and respond to my representations. The local authority did arrange a meeting to hear my case but nobody turned up from the school to provide evidence, so the local authority informed the school that there was no evidence on which to make a judgment and recommended that the governors meet to investigate the case and hear my representations.

To my astonishment, the chair of governors decided to ignore this recommendation. It seems as though everybody is unwilling to challenge the head's decisions because the school is very successful in exam passes and there is a strong demand for places. Can the governors refuse to hear my case? What redress do I have?

A successful school is no excuse for neglecting natural justice, and all parents have a right to make representations in their child's defence. It's true that the new Bill - as drafted - says that governors only have to meet when the representations refer to exclusions of more than five days in one term, but it isn't law yet. Meanwhile, although the law doesn't say explicitly that governors must meet, I believe that the parental right to speak implies a parallel duty on the part of those addressed to listen, and experienced people I have consulted agree with me.

Furthermore, I have never heard of a school where legitimate parental representations have been dismissed hy governors in this way. Not providing evidence to the local authority and ignoring the local authority's recommendation to hold a meeting makes matters worse. It is a little surprising that the local authority has not taken a stronger line against what it must clearly consider bad practice, but perhaps that is still to come.

On the basis of what you have told me, I think that you could well appeal to the Secretary of State under Section 496 of the Education Act 1996 on the grounds that the governing body have abused their power andor failed in their duty.

Incidentally, are you sure that the whole governing body (or a panel to which they delegated power for the purpose) agreed at a properly convened meeting to the decision not to hear your case? The chair has no power to act alone except in an emergency and decisions so made can be challenged.

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