Tory education policy suddenly less appealing, by Conor Ryan

30 Jul 09
CONOR RYAN | One of the more impressive aspects of Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary whom I interviewed for this week's magazine, is his grasp of detail and willingness to talk to people within the sector about policy rather more fully than his predecessors.

One of the more impressive aspects of Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary whom I interviewed for this week's magazine, is his grasp of detail and willingness to talk to people within the sector about policy rather more fully than his predecessors.

But there is a timely reminder today of one area where he and his Tory colleagues remain committed to a policy that owes more to popular myth than realistic policy. Today's school exclusion statistics show that the number of exclusions is falling, both in numbers of permanent expulsions and temporary suspensions.

Just as importantly, they show the irrelevance of what has been the main plank of David Cameron's policy on school discipline: a commitment to abolish appeal panels where parents unhappy with their child's exclusion can ask a panel set up by the local authority, but including people from education, to reverse the decision. The key facts on appeals today (see Table 11) are these:

  • in 2007/08 there were some 780 appeals lodged by parents against the permanent exclusion of their child. This represents a decrease of 25% since the previous year
  • of the appeals heard, 26% were determined in favour of the parent, which represents an increase of 1.3% since the previous year
  • of the appeals determined in favour of the parent, reinstatement of the pupil was directed for 35% of cases, a decrease of almost 5% since the previous year

In reality, that means that just 60 cases out of 8,130 permanent exclusions, out of 7.3 million pupils, result in a pupil being reinstated as a result of appeals panels. And the number of reinstatements has been falling – from 150 in 2002/3 and 100 in 2006/7 – as the panels look for alternatives.

This is why many head teachers, including the main secondary heads' association, Association of School and College Leaders, want the panels to stay. They prefer the panels’ decisions to the greater cost and uncertainty that might result in the courts if parents were unhappy that the school governors - as is likely - rejected any appeals. Another one for the historic policy bin, perhaps?

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