Bad language not justified

3rd May 1996 at 01:00
Exclusion orders on unruly pupils are being challenged by independent panels with the result that heads are calling for their work to be re-examined. A pupil referred to in court as M was accused of saying in the presence of, but not to, one of his teachers, "Why don't you just fuck off". The boy denied it but the headteacher found that M had been heard to say this by a teacher and a pupil and M was suspended indefinitely from St Gregory's RC Aided High School in Warrington.

The head wrote to the boy's parents explaining that a factor in his decision was M's refusal to acknowledge that he had said what he was accused of saying.

A committee of governors heard the case against M in the presence of his mother, though it wrongly thought that because M was under 18, he was not allowed to be present. The governors unanimously agreed not to direct the headteacher to reinstate, and left the matter in his hands. They wrote to the parents: "If M could see his way to apologising in writing for his use of abusive language, then he would be reinstated immediately."

The aided school's appeals panel did hear from M but only in the absence of his parents. The panel later told them it was satisfied "the permanent exclusion was a reasonable response to your son's behaviour".

Challenging both the school and the appeals panel in the court, M's lawyer argued the panel should not have heard from M in the absence of his parents and should have heard direct evidence from the witnesses rather than allowing the head to recite their evidence; that the stated reasons for exclusion were inadequate and that decision was unreasonable.

These challenges were dismissed. The court found there had been no procedural unfairness and that M's case had failed "by a significant margin" to establish that no reasonable headteacher could have excluded in these circumstances.

Unreasonableness, the judge pointed out, meant action "so absurd that no sensible person could ever dream that it lay within the power of the authority so to act" though this was easier to demonstrate when the authority in question failed to take into, or left out of, account some material factor.

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