'She has been robbed of her education'

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Rachael Clarke, aged 16, was permanently excluded from Foxhills Comprehensive in Scunthorpe last October for attacking a fellow pupil. She has since abandoned her eight GCSEs and her plans to be a teacher and is working in a chocolate factory.

It was a nasty attack. Rachael broke the nose, blacked the eyes and split the lip of another girl on the school bus home after verbal scuffles with her earlier in the day.

Her parents, Linda, a factory worker, and Roderick, a lorry driver, took the case to the local education authority which said the school must take her back. The school appealed to an independent tribunal and lost.

Teachers at the school voted to strike if she was returned to normal classes and when she came back to school in early November, she was segregated.

Mrs Clarke says: "She was taken to school by taxi and put in a small room with a teacher's aide. She was not allowed out at play time but when it finished, she was allowed to go and stand on her own in the teachers' car-park.

"At lunch time, she was escorted on a walk round two streets and then had her lunch with the 11-year-olds. She was not allowed to talk to them and they were threatened with detention if they spoke to her.

"On 29 November, she cracked and said she wasn't going to school again."

The Clarkes were offered a place for Rachael in another school but, when they visited it, they say the head urged them to try to keep her at Foxhills because she was so close to her GCSEs.

Rachael was sent work to do at home but in January the local education authority said she must go to school or a special unit. Tuition was fixed for her at a unit for problem pupils on the day when other pupils were not there. She could not put up with her second dose of isolation and she stopped going .

"She was sitting in the car going hysterical and saying she was going to kill herself," says Mrs Clarke. "I was seeing my daughter crying in corners, not sleeping, not eating. My husband and I rowed and fell out over it. Our younger daughter, who was 14 ,was not getting any attention."

By Easter, Rachael could officially leave full-time education and she did. She also left home to live with a friend's family and got a job in a factory, although she remains in close contact with her mother.

"My daughter is lovely. She can lose her temper but it takes a lot to get her mad," says Mrs Clarke. "When she was excluded, the school said she had been caught smoking in the past, had used bad language to teachers and had always been a bully, but no one had ever told us.

"She's been robbed of her education over this, and I've been robbed of my daughter because she's left home now. We were disgusted with what she did and she was very sorry about it and apologised. It is very important that you have discipline, but why couldn't they have just suspended her for a while?"

Steve Gallaher, head teacher of Foxhills, says the assault was so serious that permanent exclusion was the only option.

"Foxhills school is very proud of its standards of discipline and behaviour, which we are sure is one of the major factors in its increasing numbers - from 500 to 800 in less than four years and still growing."

Wendy Berliner