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Schools: Exclusions

Volume 670: debated on Monday 14 March 2005

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2.44 p.m.

Whether they support the decision of the independent appeal panel to reinstate a pupil at Hurst Community College, Tadley, Hampshire previously expelled for assaulting a member of staff.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills
(Lord Filkin)

My Lords, we are committed to backing head teachers' authority when pupils' behaviour warrants exclusion. Our guidance says that we do not normally expect appeal panels to reinstate pupils excluded for serious violence. The panel must have regard to the guidance and take account of the individual circumstances of the case, all the evidence available and exercise its own judgment in reaching a decision.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. His comments reinforce what we on these Benches have been thinking. In 2003, 71 per cent of appeals led to reinstatement in those schools. Given that we have just spent days discussing an education Bill that is trying to raise standards in schools, does he agree that reinstatement of those pupils who were excluded for violence does nothing to increase standards in our education system? It only decreases the morale and so on of everyone in the school.

My Lords, the noble Lord. Lord Hanningfield, is in danger of conflating various statistics and making two plus two equal five. In 2002–03, which is the last year for which we have statistics, there were 9,290 permanent exclusions. Of those, about 10 per cent appealed and only 149 were reinstated. Those 149 do not, of course, equate to cases of serious violence, because those would be only a small proportion of all the cases that were excluded. Only 21 per cent of appeals were found in favour of parents, which does not indicate that the system is collapsing, nor is it right that parents are deprived of their right, if their child is excluded, at least to have the case put as to why they think that their child should not be excluded.

Having said that, only 1.6 per cent of permanently excluded pupils were reinstated—I repeat, 1.6 per cent—and a very small proportion of those would have been involved in violence, real or threatened.

My Lords, what type of training do the members of the independent appeals panels receive? What are the Government doing to look at the root causes of the type of ill discipline that sometimes leads to those serious situations, such as family problems requiring family support services, the need for mental health services for teenagers and, in some cases, inappropriate curriculum?

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is right that the training of independent appeals panels is crucial. We changed the process in 2003, so that there are now three-member panels, comprising a head or recently retired head teacher, a governor or recently retired governor and an independent chairman. There is training and advice provided by the department on how they should conduct their work. Training and advice is also provided to clerks to ensure that they approach their work fairly and objectively in looking at the evidence.

The noble Baroness is also right that one must look behind the immediate behaviour as well, to see how one can shift the behaviour of pupils or what parents can do themselves to try to make it less likely that pupils will seriously misbehave and, therefore, be at risk of exclusion. I strongly support the thrust implied in her question.

My Lords, does the Minister's department keep annual statistics of the number of serious attacks made on teachers, as is the case in Scotland? If not, why not? I declare an interest, as my daughter is a teacher.

My Lords, we certainly keep statistics on all the attacks on teachers that lead to disciplinary action and either temporary or permanent exclusion. I shall double-check whether, in the rare cases when serious attacks did not lead to temporary or permanent exclusions, we also have data. But I would expect so, because I agree with the noble Viscount; it is extremely serious when a member of teaching staff or any other member of the school workforce is attacked by a pupil.

My Lords, the return of a pupil to a school which has declared that that pupil is unwelcome and should leave it for good creates an extraordinary situation in the school and an extraordinarily difficult relationship between the excluded child and the unwelcoming school. What training is given on how to handle the situation and what relations are there between the school and the panel which would enable the panel in some way to make this an easier transition back?

My Lords, first, we changed the guidance to independent appeals panels so that they could find in favour of a parent—in other words, they could find that the exclusion was not justified—but at the same time decide not to reinstate the pupil into that school. One can well see that there would be circumstances when that was a healthy piece of flexibility.

Over and above that, the panel is entitled to make a judgment, weighing up the interests of the pupil and the interests of the wider school community. That could bear directly on the issue raised by the noble Lord, because the question is not simply whether that child should he put back. There are, of course, many other routes for either temporarily or permanently excluded pupils. Clearly, those include time in pupil referral units—we have nearly doubled the number of places over recent years—and learning support units. Therefore, we do not think that there is a crude necessity simply to force pupils back into a specific school when it might not be in the interests of the wider school community, even though there might be an arguable case for doing so in relation to the pupil.

My Lords, from the pupil's point of view, what are the mechanics of putting the case for him to be sent back to a school where no doubt he has seriously misbehaved and, if he does go back, he will meet a great deal of antagonism from various parts of the school? Who will represent his case before this panel?

My Lords, in part, the figures bear out what the noble Baroness is implying. Of the 9,000 or so permanent exclusions that I referred to earlier, only 10 per cent of those involved appeal. There are very many reasons why the 90 per cent do not appeal but undoubtedly one would be whether it was thought by the parents or the child to be in their interests to push for a return to that school. Of course, the child still has a right to education but that responsibility falls back on the local education authority.

Going further, in terms of rights, clearly it is the parents who put forward the case. As part of the Education Bill, we discussed whether one should go further and also allow pupils a right of hearing as part of the processes, and we have been reflecting on that.