A report published today by Justice, the law reform group, has called for changes to the processes used to make and review a decision to exclude permanently a pupil in England.
The report highlights the year on year increase in both permanent and fixed term exclusions in England since 2012, with a rate of permanent exclusions which far outstrips that of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The working party that produced the report found that schools have inconsistent understanding of their Equality Act duties, that the governing board review stage is ineffective and lacks independence. It also found that Independent Review Panels (IRP) do not have adequate powers to reinstate or order alternatives for the pupil, even if the exclusion was unlawful.
A recommendation that governing boards no longer review individual exclusion decisions is amongst the 29 made in the report. It proposes that the first stage review would be conducted by an “independent reviewer”, who would adopt an investigatory approach and produce a report setting out what they think the best way forward is. If the independent reviewer recommends withdrawal of the decision to exclude and the head teacher does not do so, then an appeal would be available to the pupil/ parents. Under this system the governing board would retain overall responsibility for exclusions and hold the headteacher to account for their use of exclusions across the school.
NGA was represented on the sub-group consulted by the working party that produced the report. NGA’s Director of Advice and Guidance Steve Edmonds said:
“Although the views expressed in this report are those of the working party, they raise the important question of the role of governing boards in the appeal system for school exclusions. NGA raised this previously during the Timpson review and suggested that the review of the appeal system for exclusion decisions by panels of school governing boards may not be serving a useful purpose. The Department for Education has not given any indication that that any change is being considered. Should there be an opportunity to propose an alternative system then NGA will do this in consultation with our members. NGA values the voices of all and would also want to make sure the voices of parents were heard in any subsequent discussion.”
NGA has recently updated its practical guidance for governing boards on their role in school exclusions. The guidance explains why the decision to exclude a pupil should always be seen by the school as a last resort and how governing boards can ensure that this is the case. In addition, an eLearning module covering the governing board's legal responsibilities around exclusions is available via NGA Learning Link.