Independent "reviewer" should investigate exclusions

Too many schools do not fully understand their legal duties when it comes to exclusions, the law reform group Justice has said.

Justice believes there are “serious weaknesses” in a system that excludes a disproportionate numbers of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and those from a minority background.

One of the problems is that schools often do not understand their duties under the Equality Act 2010 which require them to make reasonable adjustments to school policies – including zero tolerance behaviour policies – that may put SEND children at a disadvantage.

In the Challenging School Exclusions report, Justice called for mandatory training on the law related to exclusions for school leaders and recommended the establishment of a new independent reviewer with powers to investigate individual exclusions. It also wants dissatisfied parents to have the option of appealing to a judge-led tribunal.

According to Justice, governors lack independence to review a decision by the headteacher to permanently exclude a pupil.

Justice also says that guidance on the exclusion review process needs to be improved to make it coherent and accessible to parents/carers and pupils.

Prof Richard de Friend, who chaired the Justice working party that looked into exclusions, said: “Exclusion can have such a devastating impact on a child’s future that it is vital that exclusion decisions meet all the required statutory standards. We have concluded that at present we cannot be confident that they do because of the weaknesses we have identified in the current procedures.”

Barton said schools needed more flexibility in the curriculum and qualifications to ensure that more young people remain motivated by learning. He called for more funding for joined-up working between schools, social care, police and mental health agencies in recognition of the complex needs of many vulnerable young people.

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