Frances Rafferty reports on the growing number of conflicts between schools and LEA tribunals.
The pressure on schools to re-admit children that they want to exclude is causing teachers increasing concern, the Education Secretary is to be told. Changes in the law and the decisions of local authority appeals committees are obliging schools to take back even pupils who have been violent.
Teachers have voted for action, including strike action, at Foxhills school in Scunthorpe, Humberside, because the local authority appeals tribunal said a girl who was permanently excluded after assaulting another pupil on the school bus must be reinstated.
At Alfred Barrow school, Barrow in Furness, Cumbria, staff have notified the governing body that they will be balloting for action, after the governors overturned the headteacher's decision to exclude a boy permanently after an incident involving a teacher.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, will be writing a letter to Mrs Shephard about what he sees as a worrying trend.
He said: "The number of cases this year has increased. It is the twin problem of some extraordinary decisions by the appeals committees, and the change in law abolishing the category of indefinite exclusion."
The new law on exclusions, which removes the indefinite category, sets an upper limit of 15 days for fixed exclusions in any one term. Mr Hart said he was concerned that this was leading to an increase in permanent exclusions.
Malcolm Pattison, chairman of governors of Foxhills, told The TES that teachers at the school felt strongly that they needed the full support of the local authority to maintain the high standards of discipline in the school. He said they saw the decision to reinstate the pupil as undermining the school's expected standards of behaviour.
He said: "We feel that the new exclusion arrangements introduced earlier this year do not allow schools flexibility to deal with incidents such as this one. The strict time limits and removal of indefinite exclusions do not enable all the parties involved to consider solutions other than those in the formal exclusion procedures."
Stephen Gallaher, the headteacher, said Foxhills was not used to dealing with serious breaches of discipline and the incident had distressed everybody in the school. The girl was now taking lessons separately and was isolated from other pupils at all times. Humberside council is paying for taxis to take her to and from school.
Ged Reay, national executive member for Cumbria of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, said the union was trying to resolve the situation at Alfred Barrow school.
Barry Fawcett, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The problem does appear to be growing. Some of the cases I've been involved with have concerned a pupil who has been excluded after a series of incidents. Our members therefore find it a nonsense when an appeals committee makes the decision to overturn the exclusion and calls into question the judgment of the governing body."