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EDITIONS
Friday, 11 October, 2002, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Appeal panels 'made scapegoats'
boys in alley
Expulsions "sometimes done in haste"

The head of an exclusion appeal panel has rejected any suggestion that they do not deal fairly with schools or teachers.

Anne Ruff was well aware of the furore surrounding the case of the two boys in Surrey excluding for threatening a teacher then reinstated on appeal, to the annoyance of the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris.

"The phrase that comes to mind when I hear news reports like that is that the appeal panels are scapegoats," she said.

"The teachers, the parents, the secretary of state all blame them - but that's unfair," she said.

Mrs Ruff, who chairs independent exclusion appeal panels for the London borough of Haringey, rebutted calls from teachers' unions and the Conservatives for the appeal panels to be abolished.

Legal expert

In her experience it was often head teachers who disregarded the government's guidance - not the appeal panels.

I'm a parent ... I can think 'God, I wouldn't like that toe-rag in the class with my kids'

Anne Ruff
appeal panel chair

Mrs Ruff is also principal lecturer in law at Middlesex University, specialising in education law.

She has been serving on appeal panels - it is voluntary work - for more than six years, sitting on three or four a year.

She said they had in mind two things:

  • Had the school proved the facts on which it had based the exclusion?
  • If so, was permanent exclusion reasonable - bearing in mind the government's guidance?
She said the panel was normally required to follow the guidance and would have to have good reasons not to do so.

In her experience, head teachers' decisions to exclude were often rushed.

And they might be based on the wrong grounds.

Balanced approach

In one recent case the panel found there were very good reasons for excluding a child - but they were not the reasons the school had given.

We usually have sympathy with the school and recognise that teachers are working under a lot of pressure

In the circumstances they had to order that the child be reinstated.

Mrs Ruff also rejected any idea that the panels were out of touch with the realities of school life.

"I'm a parent, I have got children at school," she said.

"I can think 'God, I wouldn't like that toe-rag in the class with my kids'.

"But if it were my child who had been excluded I would want them to have support.

"So I'm looking at it in two ways.

Reform idea

"We are not totally uninformed - we usually have sympathy with the school and recognise that teachers are working under a lot of pressure," she said.

"We try to make a fair and informed decision which takes into account the interests of the child and the school."

A reform she would like to see to the exclusion guidance would be to simplify it for schools.

She suggested head teachers should have to fill in a form setting out the grounds for exclusion, and why they thought it was the appropriate course.

"That would focus their mind on whether this is the best thing.

"Sometimes it appears to be a knee-jerk reaction," she said.


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See also:

10 Oct 02 | Education
04 May 01 | Education
16 Nov 01 | Education
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