Unruly pupils face new law

The Government has been promising to strengthen disciplinary measures against unruly pupils since the summer term.

It was then that the rumpled figure of 13-year-old Richard Wilding - who sparked industrial action among his teachers after being excluded from his Worksop school but returned by order of an appeals panel - became a familiar figure on news bulletins. He brought into focus what many heads and teachers saw as the weakness of the disciplinary system.

However, the changes fall short of what many unions have sought. The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in particular has led the campaign against violence in schools and is unhappy that the excluded child's right to appeal remains as strong as it does in the planned legislation.

The Education Bill planned for the autumn should put in train several changes. Each school will have to have a public policy on discipline and exclusions, which can be monitored by the local authority.

Having a written policy will mean, says Alan Parker, education officer of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, that parents will be informed of every step and can no longer claim that they were surprised when a child was excluded. Moreover, since the policy will be demonstrably fair and schools should have no excuse for not following it to the letter, it will be harder for parents to claim at appeal that their child's case was not handled properly. Councils believe it could reduce exclusions.

Other changes mean that parental consent will no longer have to be sought for detentions.

The current limit of 15 days per term in which a child can be temporarily excluded will be lumped together so that if necessary pupils can be kept away for up to 45 days - but that still remains the limit for the year.

The local authority will continue to be able to step in and remove delegated powers to prevent a breakdown of discipline or if it is felt that the behaviour of a pupil or parent is likely to seriously prejudice the education of pupils.

If the exclusion is for more than five school days, the headteacher must, as now, tell the governing body and the local authority about it and the reasons why.

If parents are unhappy they can make representations to the governing body and then to the local authority, which sets up an independent appeals panel.

Appeals can be made by parents against exclusion or by governors where the local authority decides on reinstatement. Under the proposed legislation, the independent appeals panel will explicitly be required to consider the interests of other pupils. One other change is that parents of a child who has twice been excluded will no longer be able to choose a new school as of right. The chosen school could go to the appeals panel to protest.

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