A perfectly ordinary junior school for 200 pupils, closed by one naughty 10-year-old. Why?

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The Independent Online
A headteacher yesterday closed a junior school because of a row over an unruly 10-year- old boy as the wave of pupil exclusions took its most dramatic turn so far.

As teachers at Manton Junior School in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, threatened to strike tomorrow unless the dispute is resolved, Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, told the local authority to intervene to prevent disruption of the pupils' schooling.

Bill Skelly, Manton's head, wrote to parents of 200 pupils saying that the school would be closed today to ensure pupils' health and safety.

The decision to close a school over a disruptive pupil is thought to be unprecedented. Union leaders believe that it is legal. Local authorities are less certain. One local authority leader described the closure decision as "unbelievable - an instance of teachers saying they have the sole right to decide who they should teach".

The dispute at Manton is over Matthew Wilson who has twice been excluded from school by the head and twice reinstated by the governors. Matthew has been taught on his own by a supply teacher since the beginning of term at a cost of pounds 3,000 after teachers, who say he is a danger to them and to fellow pupils, threatened to strike if he attended normal lessons.

But the compromise broke down last week after the school governors decided to stop funding the cost of the supply teacher.

Matthew was yesterday escorted to school by his mother, who has refused to agree to his transfer to another school, and Eileen Bennett, the chair of governors. Mr Skelly agreed to teach him on his own yesterday to avoid a walkout by the eight other members of staff.

However, he decided that he was not prepared to continue with the arrangement today. He felt that he could not ensure the safety of other pupils if he had to supervise them as well as Matthew.

The school's closure, at a time when staff at the Ridings School in Halifax, West Yorkshire, are threatening to strike unless at least 20 pupils are excluded, raises important questions about who runs schools. There was immediate controversy over who had the power to intervene.

Mrs Shephard said: "This is entirely the responsibility of Nottinghamshire County Council. I call on the chairman of the education committee, Councillor Fred Riddell, to announce without delay how he proposes to ensure that pupils at Manton School receive the uninterrupted education to which they are entitled."

But Mr Riddell said: "She doesn't know what she is talking about. This is a dispute between the governing body and a headteacher. The head has twice wanted to exclude a child and the governors have twice refused. The legislation gives me as chairman of the education committee absolutely no role other than to seek to persuade."

Graham Lane, chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities' education committee, said: "What is happening is unbelievable. To put children out on the streets over a 10-year-old is overruling democracy.

"Discipline is a matter for the governing body. It is a grey area as to whether a school can be closed without the permission of the governing body. Parents could argue that they are not receiving the education to which they have a right under the 1944 Education Act."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, said they had set in motion procedures for a strike "because I can only assume that our members will be required to teach him if he is presented tomorrow." He urged the chair of governors to agree to a request from Mr Riddell that the boy should be transferred to another school.

Mr Skelly is a member of the National Union of Teachers, but the eight other teachers are members of the NASUWT.

The dispute at Manton is one of a series in which unions have threatened to take action over disruptive pupils. Mr de Gruchy strongly denies that his union's increased militancy over disruptive pupils is the result of a membership battle.

The number of exclusions from schools has been growing but experts disagree about the cause. Some headteachers say that pupils are becoming more disruptive even in primary schools. Others say that heads are more eager to expel unruly pupils than they were in the past, partly because the Government is compelling schools to compete for pupils.