Governors in mass walkout over biting boy

23rd November 2007 at 00:00
They are angry after tribunal overturned their decision to back head who expelled violent pupil.A boy who bit and struck out at three teaching assistants has had his exclusion overturned by a tribunal, driving the headteacher to take long-term stress leave and the governors to resign en masse.

The seven-year-old's case exemplifies the heated political debate over giving schools the final say in excluding pupils.

St Peter's Junior School at Raunds, Northamptonshire, raised concerns about being equipped to deal with the boy even before he started school. He had a special needs statement identifying dyspraxia and behavioural problems.

In October last year, six weeks after he started, the school said he injured several children in the playground with a skipping rope.

Then at lunchtime he attacked the three assistants: "He was hitting and kicking them," said Sue Wathen, the chair of governors. "He punched one and bit another one."

St Peter's had not permanently excluded a pupil in its 303-year history but Leah Stirrat, the headteacher, gave the boy the maximum 45-day exclusion with a view to making it permanent. His parents appealed first to the board of governors, then to a local authority independent appeals tribunal, but Mrs Stirrat's decision was upheld.

They then sought a judicial review and in September won another chance to appeal. They were represented by Jude Bunting, a barrister from Matrix Chambers. The Disability Rights Commission and the Advisory Centre for Education charity supported them. Ingrid Sutherland, from the centre, said it was difficult to strike a balance between the rights of the disabled child and the rights of other pupils and staff at the school.

In this case the boy had not received the recommended individual adult supervision in the playground when he caused the other children to be hurt.

"Teachers are entitled to not be punched or kicked, the other children are entitled to not be hurt, and the child with a disability is entitled to an education," she said.

"The law protects both sides by requiring schools to provide support for children with disabilities who misbehave."

The appeal found the school had contravened the Disability Discrimination Act and overturned the exclusion, requiring St Peter's to reinstate the boy. But his family has decided he should stay in anotherschool he now attends.

The parents said in a statement to The TES that St Peter's had acted in an unprofessional and hurtful way towards a young, vulnerable child.

They said they had continued the legal battle to clear their son's name and added: "We feel that any teacher accused of some form of misbehaviour leading to them being suspended would quite rightly want to have a way of challenging that decision - and so would you or I."

The boy was enjoying his new school with no problems, they said.

The 10 months of legal debate did not lead to the boy's reinstatement but it did cause the school's governors to resign in anger at a perceived lack of support from Northamptonshire council.

Mrs Stirrat has now been off sick for seven weeks because of stress. She said a head's paramount duty was to protect her pupils and staff.

"The interests of one child, who disrupts the learning and safety of everyone else, has to be balanced against the other 185 children in the school," she said. "Heads don't exclude without a lot of thought."

Sue Wathen has filed a complaint about the process with the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council which oversees tribunals. "I feel we've been hung out to dry by the local authority," she said.

Northamptonshire council is reviewing the procedures for excluding pupils with special needs.

A council spokesman said: "Our primary concern was to ensure the continued education of the child in the most appropriate way."

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, has promised to abolish independent appeal panels, giving headteachers and governors the final say on exclusions.

And Nick Gibb, the shadow schools minister, said: "Headteachers are terrified of going through what this headteacher has gone through so they tend to avoid excluding, leaving children free to cause havoc. If I invite a guest to dinner and later I want them to leave, then I tell them to leave. And they leave. They don't have an appeal process and nor should pupils."

Tory scrutineers, page 6

Who decides?

1996: Explusions from Manton Primary and Glaisdale Comprehensive in Nottinghamshire, and the Ridings in West Yorkshire, were overturned by governors or appeals panels, prompting teacher walkouts.

2002: A panel in Surrey ordered two teenagers who had threatened to kill a teacher at Glyn Technology College in Ewell to be reinstated. The then education secretary, Estelle Morris, said she was unable to do anything.

2003: The House of Lords backed teachers' right to refuse to teach violent and disruptive pupils.

2006: A Manchester boy was expelled for carrying a knife but allowed back to school by an appeal panel, prompting Tony Blair to call the decision "quite extraordinary".

2007: The Government limited temporary exclusions to six days before the school becomes liable, but gave heads greater disciplinary powers.

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