Head is told to explain why girl was expelled

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The Independent Online
The Government yesterday ordered an urgent report into a school's expulsion of a 15-year-old pupil who had publicly criticised its teaching.

The move came as schools standards minister, Stephen Byers, and chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, both emphasised that parents and pupils had a role in commenting on education.

Sarah Briggs was expelled from Queen Elizabeth's School in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, after writing with other pupils to a local newspaper to criticise teachers.

Sarah, who was studying for GCSEs, attacked the level of staff absenteeism and said her school had not responded to criticism from inspectors. Last year, a report by the schools watchdog Ofsted found Queen Elizabeth's had serious weak-nesses, including poor lesson planning.

Mr Byers declined to discuss details of the case, but said he was concerned over reports of Sarah's expulsion, which is being contested by her parents. He added: "We don't believe education is some secret world about which parents and pupils should not be allowed to comment.

"We do believe that Ofsted reports should be made widely available, and welcome the fact that they are ... not hidden away from public scrutiny."

Mr Woodhead said it was "a good thing" if Ofsted reports were read by pupils as well as parents, allowing both to respond. The Ofsted report on Queen Elizabeth's had revealed issues which the school needed to confront, he added.

The chief inspector was reluctant to comment on the individual case, but said: "I do not think the pupil should have been punished. There is obviously a danger of pupils inflaming a situation by unnecessary remarks."

Sarah yesterday accused her former school of attempting to censor the views of pupils and prevent them speaking out. She said: "I don't believe that I should have to back down. I think I have done nothing wrong so I should not have to apologise."

In June, Sarah told the Mansfield Chronicle Advertiser: "Supply teachers are often late turning up to lessons because they don't know where they are supposed to be, and when they do turn up they often don't have a key for the room. All this wastes time. Most of us don't feel prepared for our GCSE exam next year."

After the report appeared, she and fellow pupils quoted were ordered to make an immediate written apology to head teacher, Nicola Atkin. The other three girls involved complied, but Sarah refused to withdraw her comments.

In a letter to Sarah's parents, the head said exclusion had taken place because of "behaviour which brings the school into disrepute and could affect future pupil numbers" and for "serious disrespectful conduct towards staff in the school."

The school's chairman of governors John Carter defended the decision to exclude the pupil. He said after Ofsted's report there had been a full investigation.

"The complaints made in the article didn't stack up," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One programme.

"We did a full inquiry and investigation into this and wanted to talk to the parents and the pupil. We have not, as governors, had that opportunity.

"The head teacher gave an ultimatum that if an apology wasn't received in 48 hours, then she would be excluded.

"Only the head teacher can make that decision. Everything we have done, we have done correctly," he insisted.

Her case will be reviewed by the school's board of governors in September.

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