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EDITIONS
Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Pupils to lose right of appeal - May
Theresa May
Theresa May says schools should decide expulsions
By Gary Eason at the NASUWT conference in Jersey

The Conservatives say they would give schools in England the final word on whether to expel pupils - who would have no right of appeal to an independent body.


Instead of supporting teachers in maintaining discipline this government has relentlessly undermined them

Theresa May
Tory education spokeswoman
The shadow education secretary, Theresa May, told teachers that a Tory government would support them in restoring discipline in classrooms.

She would also abandon Labour's commitment to reduce the numbers of pupils expelled from schools by a third by 2002.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) annual conference has this week called on the government to scrap the independent local appeal panels, accusing them of forcing schools to take back disruptive and violent pupils they have expelled.

Judgement

The union's general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, said he was delighted with Mrs May's move.

NASUWT general secretary Nigel de Gruchy
Nigel De Gruchy: Schools are not 'exclusion-happy'

"I have been a lone voice calling for that for several years. I would welcome that, although it's a sinner repenting."

The Conservatives set up the appeal panels in 1986. By law, schools are obliged to go along with their findings

He thought it might lead to some increase in exclusions but not a surge. He told journalists: "Schools are not exclusion happy."

He estimated that exclusions could rise from 10,000 a year to 110,000 if existing guidance on bad behaviour were applied strictly.

"Because all our experience when we look into these cases is that there's a long history of violence and ill-discipline leading up to these things," he said.

Mrs May's message to the conference on Thursday was that the Conservative "free schools" policy would give teachers the right to exercise their professional judgement.

"One of the key areas where common sense and the practical, day-to-day experience of teachers all over the country has been sacrificed on the altar of political targets is discipline," she said.

"Instead of supporting teachers in maintaining discipline this government has relentlessly undermined them.

"How are children to learn the virtues of civilized behaviour if teachers are powerless to discipline the disruptive?"

Right to expel

This echoes something the School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, said when she visited the conference on Tuesday.

What message did it send to pupils if their schools were forced to take back someone who had attacked their teacher, she asked.

She said head teachers had a clear right, sometimes an obligation, to expel and appeals panels had been told they should not send back violently disruptive pupils.

But teachers are not convinced that the message is getting through, even though official figures indicate that only some 10% of expulsions in England are appealed against and only 2% of those appeals succeed.

Ms Morris says abolishing appeal panels would simply result in more parents seeking redress through the courts.

Mrs May does not agree. She says that what is important is that parents should know their child would have the right to a full-time education elsewhere.

Special units

She was not saying that those who were expelled should be "abandoned as educational lost causes".

Conservative policy is to provide full-time education for excluded children in what they call "progress centres" and to work with those at risk of exclusion.

But the only right of appeal against being excluded would be to a school's governors.

Nigel de Gruchy said he thought a possible way forward would be to redefine a "school" to include a local unit for those who were excluded or in danger of being excluded.

That way there would be no actual exclusion - and the government's target could be met overnight.

Parental duty

Mrs May also said that too often teachers were expected to "mop up" parents' mistakes.

"We will expect all parents to work with teachers to solve any discipline problems their child might have," she said.

Asked later how this might work in practice, she said it was difficult - but there would be further policy announcements on the issue.

Delegates warmly applauded her promise that teachers accused of having abused pupils - something which exercised the conference on Wednesday - would have a legal right to anonymity in the media until and unless police decided to press charges, which does not happen in most cases.

  • Theresa May's speech was delayed by more than 20 minutes while the conference went through the time-consuming business of taking its only card vote of the week - on an amendment to a motion to speed up conference business by devoting less time to outside speakers.
  • See also:

    18 Apr 01 | UK Education
    17 Apr 01 | UK Education
    14 Apr 01 | UK Education
    14 Apr 01 | UK Education
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