Gillian Shephard and Nigel de Gruchy have appeared to blame Nottinghamshire education authority for the row over Richard Wilding's exclusion from school and subsequent reinstatement. This is unjustified.
The law gives school governors and headteachers control over school discipline. It is Government policy that parents choose a school for their child and, wherever possible children should be educated at mainstream schools. However, the Government also expects schools to be responsive to all parents. The rights of an excluded pupil's parents can be in direct conflict with the views of all other parents. When this happens the law requires the LEA to set up an independent appeal committee; but the authority has absolutely no control over its decision which is binding on all parties. The LEA must make other arrangements for extremely disruptive pupils; but these are both more expensive and less satisfactory than an ordinary school place and should only be used as a genuine last resort.
I have no knowledge of Richard Wilding's circumstances; but in all such cases there is an inevitable sequence of events. First, the school and parents have collectively failed to deal with unsatisfactory behaviour. Second, the school has decided that it can do no more, but the parents have not accepted that decision. Finally an independent group of people have agreed with the parents. Everybody is now at loggerheads and, given human fallibility, who is to say which party is right? But the structure of the law is such that any further appeal has to go to judicial review which is both expensive and time consuming.
At this point it falls to the LEA to attempt to broker a solution. It has no specific powers to direct the parents and is legally bound to persuade the school and its teachers to abide by the appeal committee decision. It has to rely on diplomacy and, usually, the offer of some additional support to the school. This delicate task is made immeasurably more difficult when it has to be carried out in the glare of publicity, and when people who should know better are trying to pass the buck. It should also be remembered that the cash to finance any solution must come from central budgets which have been squeezed to achieve maximum delegation to schools.
In all the circumstances Nottinghamshire should be congratulated for finding a solution to problems not of its making.
ALAN PARKER Education officer Association of Metropolitan Authorities 35 Great Smith Street London SW1