Watchdog censures head

11th June 1999 at 01:00
Hertfordshire is to seek clarification of its powers after being reprimanded by the local government ombudsman when a school refused to teach a boy it had admitted. Chris Bunting reports

A SCHOOL that turned away a 13-year-old boy on his first day at school citing his sister's "dreadful" attendance record has been censured by the Local Government Ombudsman.

The secondary school in Hertfordshire, which has not been identified, refused to take the boy even though the local authority had allocated him a place and sent an educational welfare officer with him to ensure he went to his classes.

In fact the boy, identified as "Jason" in the ombudsman's report, was ejected from the premises on his first day, by a deputy headteacher who met him in a general reception area.

"His sister was a student at this school ... Her attendance was dreadful, despite the fact that the school made superhuman efforts to get her to school," the headteacher later explained.

In an interview during the ombudsman's investigation, the head added that he objected to the boy's exclusion from a previous school. He said he had taken several excluded children and did not want to further burden his staff.

The ombudsman, Jerry White, found that there was no justification for the refusal and that Hertfordshire County Council was - technically - guilty of maladministration in the case, despite its attempts make the school take the boy.

"The headteacher was acting on the authority's behalf in administering the final stage of the admissions process," Mr White said in his report.

"No child should be penalised for the alleged shortcomings of a sibling."

He advised Hertfordshire to pay pound;1,000 compensation to Jason and to apologise for the way he had been treated.

After being turned away in September 1997, Jason was sent to a pupil referral unit for five hours a week, before getting a place at another secondary in July 1998. He has since been allowed to drop down a year.

The ombudsman's report said: "The injustice to Jason seems to me to be two-fold. He had friends at the school and was denied the chance to join them.

"Second, the manner of Jason's turning away from the school was personally insulting and I have no doubt that he found it so. Indeed, the manner in which it was done - in the open reception area, in front other children, and apparently with the words 'There is no place for you here', seems designed to have been so."

A spokesman for Hertfordshire said: "We accept the decision but believe we have made every effort to ensure this child receives an education.

"This ruling raises some very important issues about our powers relating to the day-to-day management of a school and we will be raising these issues with the Department for Education and Employment."

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