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Is there ever a justification for an illegal exclusion?

John O’Boyle

Educating Yorkshire, September 2013, the episode featuring a young man struggling to cope in school after the unexpected death of his older brother. After days of escalating disruption, the charismatic Head Teacher calls the boy and his mother into his office, “Although he hasn’t done anything wrong, we are sending him home for a few days until after the funeral, it is the best thing for everyone” (or words to that effect). All nod their heads in agreement. Wait for it… fifteen seconds later, the first comment on twitter, “Oh dear! An illegal exclusion. #educatingyorkshire”

On April 24th 2013 the office of the The Children’s Commissioner published a report entitled ‘Always Someone Else’s Problem’. This report highlighted a wide range of practices categorised as illegal exclusions estimating that approximately 1600 schools across the country were, at the time of the research, sending children home for disciplinary reasons without recording it as an exclusion. The recommendations of this report included the citing of a need for an effective sanction for schools engaging in this malpractice -OFSTED to be immediately informed. The DfE and OFSTED responded quickly with new attendance guidance focusing on the correct use of the ‘B Code’ (educated off site) issued and a new impetus for inspectors to investigate schools’ exclusion procedures and use of attendance codes.

Fact: there were, and maybe still are, some schools that were sending children home, often for long periods of time, because they were generally too difficult to manage. Recorded as educated off site to mask the practice even though work was rarely forwarded and hardly ever marked. Vulnerable children abandoned; inexcusable practice by immoral Head teachers more concerned with the way their (exclusion and attendance) figures look than ensuring every child’s right to a suitable education. No argument.

But is there ever a grey area, exceptions to the rule that are genuinely intended for the good of the children? The intuitive head of year that can just smell the fact that said student is going to have a bad day, perhaps a domestic issue during the night before, he/she steps in before a major incident arises. Parent asked to come into school, no transgression committed, but a recommendation that said student go home to cool off before we all come back tomorrow to talk things through – is this acting in the best interests of those concerned? The alert form tutor that picks up a rumble of a social network tremor in registration period. A fight arranged, no way for those concerned to back down as the whole school is anticipating the contest, quick intervention, potential combatants intercepted and conflict avoided – dignity intact. Is this justification for those concerned to be excluded given nothing has really happened between the adversaries yet (especially if the fight has been arranged by a third party)? And what about the boy whose older brother has unexpectedly died and he has been finding it difficult to cope? Exclude him at his time of greatest need of support? Send him home on compassionate leave? Record him in the register as ‘C’ – other authorised circumstances for absence? But what if he is still not coping next week, or the week after that? #Dilemma #Discuss.

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