Governors' balancing act on guidance and law

7th August 2009 at 01:00

Coverage of the Cambridgeshire primary that failed in its bid to have a permanent exclusion upheld will cause real concern to governors ("Primary fails in High Court bid to overturn ruling on ADHD exclusion", July 31).

The pupil, "T", was excluded after attacking a teacher. The school argued that it had done all it could to accommodate the boy's needs. But the High Court ruled there had been a failure to make reasonable adjustment for a protected disability.

Where does this leave governors? In a difficult place. The governing body has to try to balance pieces of legislation and guidance that act against each other. Disability legislation, underlined by this case, requires the school to meet a child's needs, even if those needs include a tendency to violence against staff or pupils.

Yet health and safety legislation requires employers to assess risks to employees and take action to reduce and manage the risks.

Equally, governors must take account of government requirements to maintain a safe environment in school and promote children's wellbeing. Ofsted has a new focus on safeguarding and pupils' welfare.

Exactly how are mainstream schools supposed to balance these agendas? If a pupil is prone to unpredictable violence, it seems obvious that staff should be trained and protected. And not just the staff in the classroom but all adults at risk in the school - secretaries, lunch supervisors, caretakers and cleaners, teachers and assistants. And how should governors protect them? Stab vests? Shin pads and crash helmets?

And the pupils? How can the governors expect parents to tolerate a situation where their child is expected to sit alongside someone who may attack them at any moment? The violence may not be intentional; the individual with autism or ADHD may simply be trying to escape the situation. But that is scant comfort to the parents of the child who is hurt.

Disability campaigners gloss over these issues. They argue that all problems can be resolved by training and planning. This may be true for many children with manageable disorders, but not true for children whose disorders leave them prone to what can be terrifying acts of violence.

There is a solution: children with exceptional special needs ought to be in an environment where those needs can be specifically catered for. We have excellent schools that can cope with these problems: they are called special schools.

Phil Revell, Chief executive, National Governors' Association.

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