Author : Al Kingsley @AlKingsley_edu
A student can be excluded for one or more fixed periods, up to a maximum of 45 school days in a single academic year. Depending on the severity or history of incidents, they can also be excluded permanently.
Headteachers can only take the decision to permanently exclude a student nn response to a serious breach, or persistent breaches, of the school’s behaviour policy and where their behaviour means that allowing them to stay in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of either them or others at the school.
In my experience as a governor, when sitting on a permanent exclusion panel hearing where the parent has appealed the heads decision, it is one of the hardest roles a governor has to undertake. We are rightly reminded that the educational outcomes and life chances for students who have been excluded from a school are statistically lower ( see this Schools week article) and as such, permanent exclusion should always be absolutely the last course of action when all other options and support interventions have failed. In balance, we have to be mindful of the wellbeing and safety of all other students and staff in the school alongside the impact on learning persistent poor behaviour can cause.
The Key provides a really useful flowchart for schools and governors to refer to when considering permanent exclusions and subsequently ensuring the process was managed correctly, as well as a detailed summary for subscribers on pupil exclusion ( see below).
Once the Head has made a decision to permanently exclude a child a letter will be sent to the parents or carers to notify them of their decision. As part of this communication, they should be notified of their right to appeal the decision of the headteacher. Should they appeal ( which is often), a panel of 3 governors will be formed to hear the appeal.
The parents and any representative they wish to bring ( Friend, legal representative, interpreter) will be invited alongside the head and any supporting member of SLT involved in handling the incident, and a representative of the LA who can provide input into the proceedings as well as the clerk who will both minute the minute and where needed, ensure the process is followed correctly. Best practice is also to encourage the attendance of the excluded child to the meeting and, with the parent’s permission to speak.
It will usually fall to the Clerk to make the physical arrangements for the hearing and they should try to provide a business-like but comfortable environment which will not intimidate those attending.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of points to bear in mind:
- Although the hearing will normally take place in the school, in difficult cases a
neutral venue might be considered.
- The room in which the hearing takes place should be private and big enough to
hold all those attending comfortably.
- Seating can be informal but the members of the DC should be grouped together.
- It is helpful if all parties have a table available to allow them to place their papers
and make notes.
- There should be a separate room in which participants other than the DC
members can gather before the hearing. Those attending, other than the DC
members, should be directed to assemble here.
- Parent(s) and the Headteacher should come in together and on no account should
the Headteacher be seen chatting informally with members of the DC prior to the
meeting. Nor should any party be left in the room with the DC without the other
party including the LA officer.
- Water and glasses should be provided as should a box of tissues – exclusion
hearings can be emotional events.
- The Clerk should bring to the meeting all paperwork, statements, written
representations, a copy of the school’s Behaviour and Discipline Policy, this Guide
together with a copy of the DCSF guidance plus other reference books as well as
plenty of paper and writing materials
In some cases the clerk starts the meeting and explains the process, personally, I think it better for the governor chairing the meeting to introduce everybody and then explain the process in full including reassuring all parties they will all have an opportunity to both speak and ask questions of others. Time needs to be allowed for everyone to feel they have had a full opportunity to get their point across so I would ensure a good window is booked out for the hearing.
I’ve seen a few subtle variations on a theme, but this is the most typical running order for the hearing :
Depending on the experience of your governors, then you might need the Clerk to meet with the Disciplinary panel, explain the process, answer any questions, and asks for a volunteer or nominations to be Chair for the hearing. Personally, I’d hope that at least one experienced governor is on the panel and they should be able to lead the process and be familiar with the requirements.
- The Clerk brings in the parent(s), Headteacher and others attending.
- The Chair makes introductions, explains the purpose and the order of the meeting, ensuring all parties are settled and at ease before proceeding.
- The Headteacher describes the incident and presents evidence.
- The parent(s) question the Headteacher.
- The members of the Disciplinary panel question the Headteacher.
- The parent(s) put their case.
- The Headteacher questions the parent(s).
- The members of the Disciplinary panel question the parent(s).
- The LA representative makes a statement. ( I try and be flexible and allow their input or questions at any point in the process, it’s often invaluable)
- The members of the Disciplinary Committee question or seek clarification from the LA representative.
- The Headteacher sums up his/her case.
- The parent(s) sum up their case.
- The members of the panel retire and discuss the case and come to a decision.
As an aside and a reminder, throughout the whole process, Parents should be put at ease as far as possible, questions should be fair, balanced and not leading, the Chair should help parents who appear to be having difficulty understanding information and finally as mentioned above, sufficient time must be allowed for each party to put their case.
Where the case for the exclusion rests mainly on physical evidence, and where the
facts are in dispute, then the physical evidence, if practicable, should be retained and
be available to the panel. Photographs or signed witness statements are acceptable if
there are difficulties in retaining the physical evidence. New evidence about the events that lead to the exclusion can be put forward by any party but the school should not introduce any new reasons for the exclusion.
The role of the panel is to review the Headteacher’s decision to permanently exclude.
The panel should review the following questions:
- On a balance of probabilities, did the pupil carry out what he or she is alleged to
- Did the Headteacher/teacher in charge comply with the law and have regard to the
guidance in deciding to exclude the pupil?
- Did the Headteacher/teacher in charge have regard to the school’s/PRU’s
published policies? E.g. behaviour policy, equal opportunities policy, anti-bullying
policy, SEN policy and race and disability equality policies; and
- Was the exclusion a fair and proportionate sanction?
In relation to the first question, if there is any dispute over what has happened, the test
is whether the incident happened ‘on a balance of probabilities’. The more serious the allegation, the more convincing the evidence substantiating the allegation needs to be.
In answering the fourth question consideration should be given to:
- Prior action by the school.
- Alternative solutions.
- Pastoral support programme.
- Whether procedures for exclusion have been followed.
Where reinstatement is practical the DC should decide whether to direct reinstatement
having considered any representations made by the parent, the student and the LA officer. Also, consider if the Headteacher has complied with the exclusion procedure and has had regard to the DCSF guidance before deciding to exclude the student.
Where reinstatement is not practical, because, for example, the student has returned to
school following the expiry of a fixed period exclusion, or because the parent makes
clear he or she does not want their child reinstated, the governing body panel must consider whether the Headteacher’s decision to exclude the child was justified, based on the evidence.
The outcome of its review should be added to the pupil’s school record for future reference. There are only two decisions open to the DC — to uphold the exclusion or to direct the pupil’s reinstatement, either immediately or by a particular date.
Once the decision to either uphold the exclusion or reinstate the student has been made the Clerk records the panel’s decision. She/he must notify the parent and the local authority, normally within a day.
Where the governing body panel decides to uphold a permanent exclusion, its letter to the parent should also include the following information:
- The reason for the decision.
- Their right to appeal to an Independent Appeal Panel, together with the name and
address of the person to whom any notice of appeal should be sent.
- The date by which any notice of appeal should be lodged.
- That any notice of appeal must set out the grounds on which the appeal is made.
- That any claim on grounds of disability discrimination should also be set out in the
notice of appeal.
Minutes of these meetings to consider exclusions should be kept confidential and stored as
such. Minutes must be signed as an accurate record by the Chair of the panel.