Exclusions target is a 'dead duck', say unions, as appeal panels lose powers to overturn heads' decisions. Julie Henry reports from the Professional Association of Teachers' conference.
THE power to exclude violent and disruptive pupils was handed back to heads this week with new guidance curbing the powers of independent appeal panels.
Schools minister Jacqui Smith's announcement at the Professional Association of Teachers' conference in Cheltenham marked a retreat on the Government's exclusion policy.
Under the new guidance, appeal panels should no longer overturn exclusions for violence, drug dealing and sexual abuse. Heads should also no longer be overruled if they exclude for persistent refusal to conform to school policies on dress code, vandalism, bullying and racial harassment.
The move makes Government targets to cut exclusions by a third by 2002 a "dead duck", according to the National Association of Head Teachers. The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers called for appeal panels to be abolished.
But the U-turn does not go far enough to protect teachers from lawlessness in the classroom, Kay Driver, the PAT's general secretary, told representatives of the union's 34,000 members.
Vice-chairman Geraldine Everett described the new 3Rs s rebellion, resistance and riot. She said: "In some schools, extra help has to be drafted in just to cover changeover of lessons and breaks, gang warfare is rife ... school buses are attacked and even superheads quit."
Ms Everett claimed some teachers were too afraid to report incidents for fear of reprisals or of being accused of incompetence. She said some heads brushed complaints under the carpet to protect the school's public image.
Parent support groups are worried exclusions will surge as a result of the changes. Margaret McGowan, spokeswoman for the Advisory Centre for Education, said: "We are concerned young people won't be given a fair hearing. The guidance now puts the presumption strongly against re-instatement at appeal."
Interim findings from a PAT and Secondary Heads Association survey suggest that students are buckling under the stress of tests.
The unions said that, between the ages of five and 18, pupils had to endure at least 75 external assessments, tests and exams, costing an estimated pound;10 million a year. Responses from 3,500 11 to 18-year-olds showed the most felt under stress - losing sleep, breaking into tears, feeling ill and losing their appetite. Girls, who outperform boys at almost all levels, were more affected by stress.