SCHOOLS are being forced to reinstate pupils who are violent or take drugs, headteachers complained yesterday.
They have written to John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, saying that independent appeal panels are overturning decisions by heads and governors to exclude pupils guilty of serious breaches of discipline.
The panels were set up in 1986 after complaints that pupils were not getting a fair deal in disputes over exclusions between local authorities, governors and schools. They are independent tribunals whose members are appointed by local authorities to pass judgement on parental appeals.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said growing numbers of schools were being forced to reinstate pupils who had taken drugs or who had hit other pupils or teachers. Recently, exclusions have risen rapidly to an estimated 66,000 a year.
Mr Hart said: 'The message to other pupils in the school must be that you can commit very serious offences and get away with it.'
Dr Richard Skinner, head of Romsey School, Hampshire, said he was aggrieved by the decision of a three-member panel which ordered him to reinstate two out of three pupils excluded for smoking cannabis in the lunch hour.
He, the governors, and the county council had all agreed that the boys should be permanently excluded, but two sets of parents had appealed successfully to the panel.
He said: 'The panel made us feel we were guilty until we proved our innocence. Their decision undermines the school's authority. What about the pupils who have a positive attitude to the school?
'The panel says that a decision by the head, governors and local authority is not good enough. If Mr Patten is trying to devolve powers to schools then this system is hypocritical.'
Mr Hart wants the panels to be able to refer decisions back to heads and governors if procedures have been breached or natural justice flouted, but not to overrule them.