Student A and Student B were sisters at a secondary Academy. They had excellent school records and were hard working, diligent students. Student A was the victim of online abuse and bullying by a group of girls in her year which took place on social media. One of these girls was Student X.
One day, Student A was hit by a water bottle thrown from a group including Student X. That evening, Student A was added to a snapchat group chat by the same group of girls and was sent further online abuse, including racist comments and derogatory remarks. Student A did not rise to the provocation and the messages were quickly deleted by those that had sent them.
The following day, Student X sent a message offering to fight Student A. She did not react. Student X also taunted Student A, in person, by making jokes about what had happened the day before.
At lunchtime, Student B confronted Student X about what had been said online to her sister. Student X responded by swearing and punching Student B to the face, in front of many students who were congregating to have lunch. A fight started and Student A quickly realised that her sister had been assaulted and jumped into the incident to help defend her. The situation escalated and many students joined around to watch the fight. Students A and B quickly overpowered Student X. The fight was shortly broken up by staff at the school.
Students A and B were issued with a fixed-term exclusion whilst the incident was investigated. They were subsequently permanently excluded from the school for a one-off incident of serious violence. Student X was sanctioned but was not permanently excluded.
At the Governors’ hearing, the school argued that this was a sustained and serious incident of violence on Student X, and that there were pupil witness statements to suggest it was planned. The family argued that the approach to sanction was discriminatory, the incident only arose because the girls had to defend themselves and that the statements presented by the school were unreliable as they were unattributed, unsigned and vague.
The Governors, by majority, upheld the exclusion as a one-off incident of serious violence and found that the girls would be a risk to the education or welfare of others if they were to return to the school.
The family appealed to the Independent Review Panel.
At the Review hearing, the school presented their case in a similar way as presented at the GDC. The Chair of Governors stated that the Panel watched the CCTV footage many times and concluded that this was a one-off incident of serious and sustained violence and that the girls could not return to the school. When questioned by the Panel and the family’s CEN representative, the Chair of Governors conceded that
(i) The Governors could not ascertain who started the fight on the CCTV footage alone.
(ii) Elements of the school’s procedure in issuing and investigating the
exclusion had been unsatisfactory.
(iii) That there was evidence to suggest that Student X began the altercation.
(iv) The statements presented by the school were not reliable. Further admissions were also made by the Governing Panel.
The family’s case was presented on the same basis as the GDC. The family further highlighted that the Governors’ decision letter was inadequate and lacking in detail, that the discrimination claim had been ignored and that conclusions had been reached which were irrational and procedurally unfair given the evidence presented to the Panel.
In its decision letter, the IRP quashed the exclusions of both girls and directed reconsideration of reinstatement. The IRP agreed with the family’s arguments and quashed both exclusions on the grounds of irrationality and procedural unfairness.
Both students were represented at the GDC and IRP by Ben Hale, CEN Education Advocate.