I am appalled by proposed changes to School Exclusion Panel procedures, which hand over enormous powers to schools, and especially academies, to get rid of undesirable children.
Consultation is taking place on these proposals until February 17th.
A Panel of School Governors will remain to uphold or overturn a headteacher's decision to permanently exclude (expel). Some governing bodies approach this task independently, but many will act to uphold the headteacher's decision as an action of support. Up until now there has been a check - an Independent Appeal Panel (IAP) which includes a serving or recently retired headteacher to ensure the other two members understand the issues. It is proposed to scrap IAPs and replace them by a Review Panel. For an academy, this can run by the Academy Trust which is hardly independent.
The powers of the Review Panels are limited to three courses of action: they can....
*uphold the exclusion; or
*recommend that the governing body reconsiders its decision,taking account of the Review Panel’s findings; or
*quash the decision and direct that the governing body considers the exclusion again (but why should the Governing Body come up with a different decision a second time?)
However, They can only quash the decision if they find that it was flawed in the light of the principles guiding judicial review, ie it was:
*illegal - head or governing body had acted outside their legal powers; or
* irrational - an unreasonable decision; or
* procedurally flawed - the process was unfair, had not followed the correct procedure and did not conform with natural justice.
In other words, if they disagree with the decision, but it has been achieved according to the rules, however unreasonably, there is no way of overturning it. I have been involved with a number of permanent exclusion decisions over the years where, in my view, the school has behaved in a heavy handed way without justification, but an IAP has seen fit and sense to overturn it. This will not be possible in the future.
Where requested to do so by a parent, local authorities or Academy Trusts will need to appoint a special educational needs expert to attend an independent review panel. The review panel does not need to follow his advice.
Amazingly, the Review Panel won't even need an independent clerk - their responsibility can be taken over by one of the Panel members.
Last week Kent County Council published a paper (see below) that admits that the number of permanent exclusions in Kent is far too high, is higher than other Local Authorities, that permanent exclusions of children with Special Education Needs is also too high. Without going into detail about how it will achieve it, KCC proposes to reduce the level of permanent exclusions by an astonishing 80% by 2015, with SEN children's exclusions also reduced proportionally. These changes will have the opposite effect, especially with academies having control over their own review panels, and I foresee a shift in the opposite direction as schools realise how easy it would be to get rid of children they don't want - see the figures that show academies already flexing their muscles. Of course, these children don't just go away. If they stay in the school they soak up precious resources managing them, but if they are excluded some other school (usually one with vacancies) is left pick up the pieces.
This legislation has almost certainly been encouraged by macho headteachers who have the ear of the Secretary of State, but it is another step on the slide down to loss of accountability by academies with exceedingly worrying outcomes for our most vulnerable children.