Report reveals illegal school expulsions


20 March 2012

by Stephen Gregory

A report by the children’s commissioner has found that pupils have been illegally excluded from schools.

Headteachers admitted imposing formal exclusions lasting for months and coercing troublesome children into changing schools. In one extreme case children were told not to come back until their GCSE exams after they broke up for Christmas.

The enquiry heard from specialist education barrister David Wolfe that some academies were not listening to appeals from parents and were attempting to protect their procedures from scrutiny. He also claimed that they were not complying with official guidance.

The problem is apparently widespread, with Wolfe quoted in the report as saying this is "symptomatic of a pattern of behaviour, rather than being limited to a few bad apples”.

Maggie Atkinson, the children's commissioner for England, said: "For the first time schools are on record saying they had illegally excluded pupils. Due to the informal nature of such exclusions it is difficult to know how widespread this practice is but it is worth further examination.

"Our report recognises that exclusion may in rare cases be a necessary last resort. It should happen only if a child is a danger to his or herself or others, or when learning is so disrupted that only exclusion is possible. But all exclusions must be within the law."

The report also said that it was "never appropriate" to exclude pupils for "minor infringements".

This covers breaches of school uniform codes, which normally includes wearing short skirts, trainers, hoodies or jewellery and turning up with dyed hair or shaven heads. This is often likely to disadvantage a particular faith or ethnic group, it was claimed.

However the conclusions were attacked by head teachers, who insisted that schools must retain “full control” over the process.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There are already very strict rules around exclusions but it must be for heads to decide when it is appropriate.

 “I would be very concerned about any restrictions on heads’ judgment.”

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