Challenging School Exclusions

CEN acted on behalf of a mother and her young child at a permanent exclusion meeting in an Academy school.  The child was too young to be present. The CEN advocate represented the family at the independent appeal tribunal and in making a claim under the Equalities Act 2010 at the First Tier Tribunal. 

Unfortunately, the Chair of the Governors was not aware of his responsibilities in conducting the meeting and had clearly undertaken no relevant training for his role – namely the duty to consider parents’ representations about an exclusion and to be even handed in hearing evidence.  

Government statutory guidance requires that all parties are entitled to have their views properly heard which in this instance the Chair had no intention of following.  The CEN advocate had been asked by the parents to represent their child, but the Chair refused to allow the advocate to make representations regarding the Equalities Act 2010, another issue about which the Chair appeared to have had no knowledge and training.  Furthermore, the Chair showed bias in not allowing a discussion about an issue which was unfavourable to the school. 

In such a situation the CEN advocate was entitled to refer the issues of bias to the Clerk to the Governors, whose duty is to provide advice and guidance to the governing board and who should have the necessary skills training for the role.  In this particular incident the Clerk was not up to the task, and did not intervene to ensure that the CEN advocate was allowed to ask relevant questions.   

As a result, the Governors upheld the permanent exclusion, but the grounds for appeal included unfair prejudice displayed by the Chair towards the child’s representative.  Minutes of an exclusion meeting are required to be taken, and the CEN advocate requested a copy, where the Chair’s unfair bias was apparent.  The CEN advocate represented the family and the independent appeal tribunal and in making a claim under the Equalities Act 2010 at the First Tier Tribunal. 

This case exemplified the fact that so often governors do not undergo the necessary training relating to school exclusions, as they are required to do, and that many are unaware of their responsibilities as outlined in the Governors’ Handbook (recently published in 2020) and the Competency Framework for Governance published by the Department of Education.   

The CEN advocate is entitled to examine the Governing Board’s decision at the Independent Appeal Tribunal and can closely question the Governor who attends the appeal on his or her competencies.  One of the Governors’ responsibilities should be to ensure the school is conducting its responsibilities relating to exclusions by properly following the government guidelines, which sadly, in the experience of many CEN advocates, rarely seems to be the case. 

Useful documents which should be included in the pack at a permanent exclusion meeting are a 2019 report from the Childrens’ Commissioner and a 2019 report from Justice called ‘Challenging School Exclusions’.  This issue should be at the heart of the school’s policies. 

As a direct result of the above case, CEN changed its guidance to parents as outlined in the initial letter which parents are advised to send to the school, from which the following is an excerpt: 

‘Would you also provide me with the School’s policy for considering and reviewing both fixed term exclusions and permanent exclusions, and confirm which member of the Governing Board has been delegated with the authority to oversee or assist the School with such policies. 

 I would be grateful if you would confirm that members of the Governors’ Panel who will be overseeing the PEX meeting have been fully trained on school exclusions and are fully informed about the Government’s statutory guidelines 2017.’"