Harris Academy, Tottenham

CT, a 15 year old student in year 11 was permanently excluded on 17th September 2020 after a single incident on 16th September. This was approximately 10 days after students had returned to school after the long break due to COVID. The child had been at the school since Year 7 and is on the SEN register due to being diagnosed with Dyslexia. He also has emotional difficulties as well as a condition which affects his ability to write.

CEN did not represent the parent at the GDP on 4th November 2020 and the permanent exclusion was upheld. The parent suspects that information which she provided 3 days before the GDP, was not placed before the GDP members, which among other documents consisted of several character references for the child. There was no mention of this information at the GDP, and when I had taken over the case, I enquired about this and was told that they “didn’t know” if it had been but thought it “probably was.” There were several exchanges like this during the process. 

The parent reported feeling that the GDP did not invite a proper discussion regarding what happened and left many questions unanswered. The Chair of the GDP is a head teacher at another Harris Academy and although challenged about this at the IRP, stated there was no difficulty for him to maintain impartiality. The same Chair also appeared on the schools panel at the IRP and has subsequently been the Chair of the panel reviewing the GDP’s recommendations. 

Summary of Grounds

Please find below a summary of the grounds that I invited the IRP to consider at the hearing: 

(a) The school failed to investigate the totality of the event leading to permanent   exclusion to a rigorous standard before reaching the decision to permanentlyexclude CT and in doing so, the exclusion is deemed to be unreasonable.

(b) The GDP failed to investigate the exclusion to the standard expected and did notpursue many contradictions and unanswered question in the school’s evidence. The   GDP failed to conduct a robust fact find.

(c) The GDP failed to take consideration of the fact the CT is due to take his GCSE’s in2021 in reaching their decision.

(d) The GDP meeting itself appears problematic. There are inconsistencies in the minutes      which are not minor and would be material to the decision reached. It is unclear why theminutes have these discrepancies. 

(e) The process of GDP hearings is not consistent to the extent that there are marked differences in how pupils involved (to the same level) in the same incident are treated byway of the factors taken into account in the decision-making process.

(f) The school appears to have failed to put all of the supporting evidence in front of the GDP and therefore it did not form part of their decision.

(g) The school, aware of the difficulties CT experiences with emotional reactivity (EP report,p84,87 and 88) since October 2019, did not take appropriate holistic measures toaddress this as recommended or at least investigate same.

(h) In addition to (f) above, the school failed to take account of CT’s displays of anxietybehaviours. DF (mother) states that he has been sent home on several occasions dueto experiencing chest pain, at least one of such an incident was whilst in isolation. 

(i) The school failed to provide pastoral care to CT although he would certainly meet with  the criteria for doing so.

(j) Failed to take account of the difficulties that pupils would most likely be experiencing having only just returned to the School under Covid-19 restrictions.

In my various interactions with the school, and individuals in senior positions, I found them to be duplicitous, aggressive, and willing to go to extreme lengths to avoid probing questions. I found out after requesting another piece of evidence that the school had instructed a solicitor of 20+yrs experience in Education Law at a specialist firm. They tried to block third party evidence which was supportive of the child’s appeal, but again after jumping through hoops, it was allowed. 

I had requested to view the CCTV evidence and had a brief interaction with the head teacher and executive head. I found them to be hostile and flippant, I was asked “If I would like to come and work there”, implying most of the children were feral. 

Again, at the IRP, I was met with a high level of hostility, but we had a very capable IRP who along with my written and oral submissions did haul the school over the coals so to speak.  

However, despite the IRP finding that there were many aspects of the decisions which were questionable, the school on review (with the same chair and I believe the whole same constitution but am awaiting full minutes) have denied all findings of the IRP and refused to reinstate the child. The grounds were on unreasonable/ irrationality and not illegality.  

In terms of procedure, I now must prepare the case for complaint to ESFA. I have not had dealings with them before, but it is no doubt a process similar to the Ombudsman (which is not available for Academies). 

The complaint was made to the ESFA 8 weeks ago and as yet there is no response. I am going to follow up and am considering a letter to the current Children’s Commissioner to raise a wider point on the problem, with Academies in particular if they essentially wish to not have much regard to Guidance. 

The parent contacted me in the first week of July to say that several teachers have come forward from the school and have stated that there is a ‘hit list’ of children (with photographs) that the head wishes to remove from the Academy. The matter seems to be gaining traction in the media so watch this space.