Opt-out school 'getting rid of troublesome boys'

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The Independent Online
A TORY council has called for an investigation into accusations that an opted-out school is weeding out low-achieving children and trouble-makers.

Parents at Queen Elizabeth Boys' School in Barnet, north London, say they have been pressed to withdraw their sons or have them expelled. Though it no longer has direct authority over the school, Barnet education authority has asked for an investigation by Her Majesty's Inspectorate.

Vic Usher, the Tory chairman of the education committee, said that between 13 and 15 pupils have been withdrawn or excluded from the school this year. 'It seems something very wrong is going on there. I am not against schools opting out, but I want to cut out the question of them selecting pupils in this way.'

When the Government introduced opting-out, under which state-funded schools can throw off local authority control and gain a greater measure of independence, critics warned that such schools would reintroduce selection and try to exclude difficult children. Now, parents allege that Queen Elizabeth Boys' is acting in traditional public school style.

Parents of former pupils say they were not made aware of their rights when they agreed to withdraw their children. The governing body is legally required to approve suspensions or expulsions, and parents have a right of appeal. Expulsions from state schools are rare, and usually applied only for highly disruptive behaviour.

One parent, Frank Niesiolowski, said the school suggested that he take his son away for what he considers 'totally petty reasons' (Robert had been cheeky in class). Another parent, Pat Fry, withdrew her son, Nicky, 14, after a series of disputes with the school, which began after her husband died. 'I didn't want expulsion on his record so I withdrew him,' she said. 'I did exactly what they wanted me to do. I should have looked for help somewhere.' Steven Foster agreed to withdraw his 15-year-old son last Easter; James had been handing in homework late and had cracked jokes in class a few times.

The school is closed for the summer and the head, Eamonn Harris, was unavailable last week. He has, however, rejected the accusations as offensive and untrue.

Barry Martin, vice-chairman of the governors, said he had never heard of parents being persuaded to withdraw pupils.

Kevin Smith, a Labour councillor who moved the education committee resolution last week calling for an investigation, said: 'My fear is the creation of sin-bin schools. If the authority had been in control the inspectors would have gone in by now.'