Headteachers tell school governors: We know best

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Heads know best and governors should overturn their decisions over exclusions only in exceptional circumstances, head teachers' leaders said yesterday.

Governors reacted angrily to the heads' announcement, made in response to a dispute at Manton Junior School in Nottinghamshire where governors have twice overturned the head's decision to exclude 10-year-old Matthew Wilson for allegedly disruptive behaviour.

Yesterday parents who had withdrawn their children from the school agreed to send them back as "a goodwill gesture" to persuade Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, to talk to them. They have been protesting at the one-to-one tuition provided for Matthew at a cost of pounds 14,000 after teachers threatened to strike if they had to teach him.

Leaders of the National Association of Head Teachers said the Government should tighten the rules on exclusions to stop governors overruling heads unless they have failed to follow the correct procedures. They should not think their judgement was better than the heads'.

David Hart, the association's general secretary, warned governors not to become emotional about cases. He said: "This is a ludicrous situation in which the governing body has managed to act in such a way that it has turned not only the teachers but the majority of the parents against it.

"Anyone looking at the situation could have seen as plain as a pikestaff that spending pounds 14,000 from the school budget would not be acceptable to parents because it is going to mean the loss of books and equipment or even of a teacher's job."

Walter Ulrich of the National Association of Governors and Managers said that the heads' proposals about the role of governors in exclusions were "not what the law says and plainly not sensible. It is entirely the responsibility of the head to decide whether children should be permanently excluded. There then has to be a proper review by someone who is not as close to the affair".

Heads also want appeal panels to be scrapped unless governors and the local authority disagree about an exclusion.

In two recent decisions, in Nottinghamshire and Hebburn, south Tyneside, independent appeal panels overruled governors' decisions to expel pupils.

Heads want a package of measures included in the Government's Bill on discipline which will be introduced into the Commons this autumn:

t Power to detain pupils after school whether their parents agree or not.

t Changes to allow pupils to be excluded for a longer period.

t Legislation to allow schools to make home-school contracts a condition of entry.

t Removal of parental choice of schools for those whose children have been excluded from two or more schools.

Mr Hart said: "The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of individual parental and pupil rights. It is time that the interests of the law-abiding majority of parents, pupils and their teachers were given equal recognition."

Commenting on the Nottinghamshire case, Mrs Shephard said she had the power to intervene over an exclusion only if the governors had behaved unlawfully, which they haven not. Responsibility rested with the local authority. But Nottinghamshire County Council criticised Mrs Shepherd and John Major for not intervening.

The National Union of Teachers asked Mrs Shepher to re-examine her powers. The Department for Education said no final decision had been taken on the legislation but it could require appeals panels to consider the interests of all children.