Schools gain new power to ban disrupters

Tougher rules will exclude unruly pupils from class but parents' right to appeal is sliding
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New powers for schools to exclude disruptive pupils were announced yesterday by Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. Her announcement came as new research revealed that the dice in exclusion cases are already weighted heavily against parents and children and in favour of schools.

An education bill to be published shortly will limit parents' right to choose a school once their child had been excluded twice. It will also give schools the right to representation at independent appeal panels on exclusions and will impose on panels the duty to consider the interests of the other schoolchildren.

Yet research from London University's Institute of Education shows that appeals panels overturn heads' and governors' decisions in only 0.5 per cent of cases. Dr David Gillborn's review of exclusions research shows that many pupils are being excluded for comparatively minor cases of indiscipline, a breach of government rules.

Parents who try to challenge heads' and governors' decisions find schools do not tell them of their rights. The injustice of many exclusion decisions is all the more serious because fewer than one in three excluded pupils ever returns to school, according to the study.

The research challenges commonly held views about exclusion. Only a minority of pupils is permanently excluded for bullying and attacking pupils and teachers, says Dr Gillborn. "In practice exclusion is used much more widely than the official definition would allow."

Only 3.2 per cent of parents lodge an appeal against their child's exclusion, according to the research. Parents are often not given the information they need about appeals, and sometimes their rights are denied. The proceedings may be unfair to parents because schools fail to tell them in advance of all the allegations against their children, says Dr Gillborn.

Mrs Shephard said schools will also be able to exclude pupils for longer periods. At present, they are able to ban a child for a maximum of 15 days a term or permanently exclude them. The bill will extend the limit to 45 days. Teachers will be allowed to detain pupils after school without parental consent, and refuse to admit a child unless parents sign a contract promising to obey school rules. Education authorities will have to draw up plans to help schools deal with disruptive pupils and educate children who are permanently excluded.

Headteachers welcomed the proposals to tighten up discipline but Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, said: "Overall, the proposals fail lamentably to match up to the threat posed by the developing crisis of hard-core violence and disruption being perpetrated by a small but constantly rising number of youngsters. There is an emerging second generation of violent disrupters whose parents are at the root of the problem." Mr de Gruchy's union recently threatened to strike in several schools following the overturning of a decision to permanently exclude disruptive pupils.