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GUIDANCE ON PUPIL EXCLUSIONS STILL 'LEAVES SOMETHING TO BE DESIRED'

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The National Association of Head Teacher's response to the DFES revised guidance on pupil exclusions makes the foll...
The National Association of Head Teacher's response to the DFES revised guidance on pupil exclusions makes the following key points:

- Every pupil is entitled to education opportunities without their learning being disrupted and undermined by persistent poor behaviour. Head teachers need to be able to act decisively and effectively with incidents that affect good order and discipline in schools. Any guidance from the DFES should facilitate good management in this area: not make it more difficult.

- The revised guidance gives the ultimate decision to independent appeal panels that are not trained and who often do not understand what is at stake. The guidance should be changed to make it clear that the process is a genuine appeal and that the independent panel can only reverse the decision if there is clear evidence that the original decision was unsound (ie lack of proof, failure by the school to adhere to its behaviour policy, or clear discrimination against the pupil concerned or other offence against justice). The revised guidance still allows panels to second-guess head teachers in reaching their own decisions.

- The attempt, in the revised guidance, to limit permanent exclusions to 'supplying drugs' is too narrow. There are a number of head teachers who feel strongly that the 'use' of drugs ought to trigger exclusion permanently, if the school believes this to be justified.

The guidance on drugs-related exclusion is ambiguous. Possession of a Class A drug (like heroin) might well be as serious as selling a small amount of a Class B or C drug to a friend. The guidance should protect students who are caught at the edges of some experimentation (eg found with a cannabis 'joint' or an ecstasy tablet on them) while reinforcing a powerful message that schools must be drug-free zones. Saying that 'dealing means permanent exclusion and possession does not', might easily encourage dealers to find ways around what is currently seen as extremely serious by all schools (see LGCnetfor 'GOVERNMENT TACKLES DRUGS IN SCHOOLS').

- In our opinion a reintegration meeting is essential if the school and home are going to jointly address the issues raised by the exclusion. Many head teachers insist that this reintegration interview takes place. Why should it not be compulsory? Failing that, unwillingness of a parent to co-operate with a school in this way should be reported to the Discipline Committee and Appeals Panel.

- The revised guidance is ambiguous on behaviour which occurs outside school. We can see cases occurring where head teachers exclude and parents appeal because they took place outside of school hours. Conversely, if two pupils have a fight on a Saturday night, do head teachers want to investigate and form a judgement about the likely impact of this on the life of the school when the pupils return to school on Monday morning? Surely behaviour to and from school is the true test?

- It must be possible to permanently exclude a student for any sufficiently serious one-off offence. What about significant crimes not covered by the guidance? How can it be that a young person is at risk of custody if they steal a mobile phone in the street but cannot be removed from school if they do the same thing in the corridor? It cannot be right that a student can break into a school at night and steal/seriously damage property but not be the subject of permanent exclusion.

David Hart, general secretary NAHT comments:

'The government's proposed revised guidance on exclusion still leaves a something to be desired. The interests of the offender and their parents continue 'to weigh as much in the balance' as those of the law abiding majority. It is not the slightest bit of good being tough on crime and the causes of crime if the government cannot give heads the unequivocal support they need when faced with totally unacceptable breaches of school behaviour policies. The government seems determined to crack down on truancy and youth crime but fights shy of taking the firm and decisive action needed to deal with the rising tide of pupil misconduct.'

NOTE

The DFES consulted on draft revised guidance on exclusion from school. The consultation paper was issued in January of this year and is due to be published later this year.

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