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Turn up for caseof the trousers

Exclusion orders on unruly pupils are being challenged by independent panels with the result that heads are calling for their work to be re-examined. A 15-year-old Newham boy was excluded from school for removing the trousers and pants of a younger boy who had insulted him. The incident happened off school premises.

The boy's parents were given seven days to make written representations to the governors. Their request for the hearing to be delayed to enable them to gather statements and obtain advice was refused by the chairman of governors. The governors confirmed the permanent exclusion citing the seriousness of the assault and humiliation of the victim. Two days later the local authority confirmed the exclusion without giving reasons or allowing the parents to make representations.

But three weeks before the appeals panel was due to consider the case, the governors' and Newham's decision to uphold the exclusion were challenged in court, despite the authority's submission that the law already provided an alternative remedy in the form of the independent appeals panel.

The judge ruled there was a strong prima facie case that the rules of fairness had been breached. And he questioned the appropriateness of permanent exclusion for a boy in his GCSE year in the absence of any previous complaints about his conduct out of school. Given the critical importance of every day in the education of a child in his GCSE year, the court ordered the boy's return to school pending the decision of the appeal panel.

A submission that the head had no authority in relation to behaviour off school premises was rejected, however. "It would be a very sad thing if head- teachers did not have authority . . . to use disciplinary action in relation to the behaviour of pupils of the school towards each other off the school premises, " the judge commented.

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