Exclusions minefield

1st December 2000 at 00:00
The Government's tough approach to curbing numbers of expelled pupils puts heads in a quandary. Chris Lowe surveys the latest guidance to schools.

THE penalising of schools in this year's performance tables for excluding pupils has created such a furore that the Government is reviewing the policy.

But as heads consider their next move, it's worth reviewing the legal situation.

A major aim of Social Inclusion: Pupil Support (Circular 1099) was to reduce the number of exclusions. Schools are expected to deal with discipline problems in-house, and to emphasise positive approaches to the management of disaffection, rather than emphasise exclusion processes.

Decisions by heads to exclude pupils for a fixed period or

permanently should only be taken as a last resort in response to serious breaches of discipline and once a range of strategies, including pastoral support programmes, have failed.

The circular also indicated that certain types of offence, such as drug taking, bullying, race and gender harassment, require

sensitive handling with the emphasis on preventative action. A fixed-period exclusion might be appropriate, but permanent

exclusion should be avoided.

Te Secretary of State took note of schools' unhappiness about this, and explained to all heads last January that

permanent exclusions can be given for a serious first offence, but only when the head has considered the incident at leisure, "not in the heat of the moment". Circular 1099 was amended to allow governors' discipline

committees "normally" to satisfy themselves that a range of

strategies has been tried.

This piecemeal amendment was inadequate. Exclusions for one-off or serious incidents would still have to be ones where the pupil posed a "continuing"

threat.

In addition, heads could not take an immediate decision to exclude a violent pupil permanently. They must take their time.

Education Secretary David Blunkett in July finally issued guidance to exclusion appeal

panels restating the need for them to consider the impact that a reinstatement might have on others in the school. It also makes clear that where there has been violence or the severe threat of violence, or sexual abuse, or selling of illegal drugs, it is inappropriate for a child to be reinstated to the same school.

Chris Lowe is legal consultant to the Secondary Heads Association


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