In the courts: The boy in solitary because a school doesn't want him

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The Independent Online
The parents of a schoolboy restricted to individual tuition after being accused of assaulting a teacher yesterday failed in a landmark High Court action to have him re-integrated into the education system. Kim Sengupta examines the implications of the case.

A High Court judge yesterday refused to order that 14-year-old Graham Cram should end his education equivalent of "solitary" and return to the classroom because it may lead to a strike by teachers.

Graham, who had been expelled from the 800-pupil Hebburn Comprehensive in South Tyneside for allegedly assaulting a teacher, was offered one- to-one tuition after teachers threatened to go on strike rather than have his "disruptive" presence returned to the classroom.

His parents, Peter and Irene Cram of Hawthorne Avenue, Hebburn, withdrew him from school because, they said, his health was being affected by the isolation and he was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. This week they asked the High Court in London to intervene and reinstate him into normal class teaching.

But Mr Justice Ognall yesterday refused the application "irrespective of the strict legal merits" after hearing that any court order could lead to strike action and major disruption to education throughout South Tyneside.

The judge said there had been clear non-compliance by the education authority with a direction to reinstate Graham into the classroom by the exclusion appeals panel in November l995.

But, he added, the school governors and education authority had argued, even if they were in breach of the law, that a court reinstatement order would be "unnecessarily disruptive and incapable of practical fulfilment" because of the threat of industrial action by the teachers from the National Association of Schoolmasters / Union of Women Teachers.

Jonathan Cohen QC, appearing for the family, had argued that a refusal to make an order would be "a charter for irresponsible people to set the law at defiance - industrial might would become, in a legal context, legal right".

Mr Justice Ognall rejected the argument and stated Graham's case was not comparable to other cases where senior judges had ruled that the courts must not surrender to unlawful, pressure.

Those cases had involved threats of violence and attempts to block the highway. By contrast the illegality involved in this case was of a "relatively venial character".