Teen appeals put teachers at risk of false claims

28th August 2009 at 01:00
Ministers warned over plans for excluded pupils to represent themselves

Teachers could find themselves victims of "vexatious" legal action and false allegations if the Government goes ahead with plans to allow teenagers to appeal against exclusions, civil servants have admitted.

Ministers want all children over 16 to be able to represent themselves at hearings - even though they admit it could lead to "public outrage" - without the help or permission of their parents, under changes likely to become law in January.

Teaching unions have warned that giving increased legal power to children at Independent Appeals Panels (IAPs) would further undermine teachers and make it harder for them to ban unruly pupils from the classroom.

Children aged over 16 already have the right to appeal against admission decisions and SEN pupils look set to win the right to represent themselves at special needs tribunals.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families argues that letting teenagers bring cases will reduce "unfair" exclusions and therefore save on costs as fewer children would be sent to expensive pupil referral units.

However, Whitehall officials, who drew up the proposals warned in a consultation document that pupils would bring cases in order to harass teachers and make "nuisance" appeals. They also predict teachers may get a "negative reception" if they try to intervene, and cases brought by children may receive "more negative (publicity) or attract public outrage even if the tribunal's decision is the correct one".

Teacher unions have spoken against appeals panels overturning the decisions of heads. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, says giving more powers to children would stop teachers doing their job "effectively" and she is against the move.

"Giving pupils a direct right of appeal to the IAP in cases where they have been excluded should serve to exacerbate the existing problems with IAPs, and work to undermine the ability of teachers and headteachers to undertake their responsibility to secure for all pupils their educational entitlements," said Ms Keates.

"For this reason, the NASUWT cannot support giving pupils a right of direct appeal to the IAP given the fact that the operation of IAPs in some circumstances works to undermine the legitimate professional authority of teachers and headteachers."

It is likely there would only be one right of appeal for each case, so if their parents had already taken action, children would not be able to appeal as well.

Carl Parsons, an academic at Canterbury Christchurch University who specialises in exclusion and is a trained appeals panel member, believes there is an increasing trend towards local authorities moving away from exclusion.

"They've realised it is cost neutral to keep them in school with extra support rather than sending them to a pupil referral unit," he said.

The changes are part of the DCSF's commitment to giving children more say on the decisions that affect them.

The consultation period has ended and ministers are now considering revising appeal arrangements or introducing new legislation.

Jan Myles, an exclusions and admissions specialist and assistant secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said there was no need for change.

"This would only be useful in cases of parent and child conflict and that's not something we see," she said.

"Most parents we see are really fighting their child's corner to keep them in school."

Battle of the banned

In 200708, some 780 appeals were lodged by parents, a decrease of 25 per cent on the previous year.

Of the appeals heard, 26 per cent were determined in favour of the parent, up 1.3 per cent from 200607. Of these cases, the judges ordered reinstatement of the pupil in 35 per cent - up 5 per cent from the previous year.

Of all pupils excluded, just 0.87% were reinstated.

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