Exclusions from school
5. Independent review panels
If the Governors' Pupil Discipline Committee agree with the head teacher's decision and your child is to be permanently excluded, you are entitled to make a request for the decision to be reviewed by an independent review panel (IRP).
The role of the IRP is, as an impartial body, to review the head teacher's decision to permanently exclude your child.
In reviewing the decision the panel must consider the interests and circumstances of the excluded pupil, including the circumstances under which the pupil was excluded, and have regard to the interests of other pupils and people working at the school.
You do not have to go to an IRP; you will receive a form which asks you to indicate whether or not you wish to have a review. This should be included in the letter from school or academy confirming the Pupil Discipline Committee decision. If you do not wish to have a review you should complete the “no” section and return it to the stated address. You have 15 school days from receipt of the letter to request a review. Where any request is received after 15 school days then it will be treated as late and there will be no review of the decision.
Your child's name cannot be removed from the school roll during this time or until after the outcome of the review (unless you formally waive your right to request a review at an earlier date).
IRPs will meet within 15 school days of receipt of your review request. The panel is usually held at a local venue, not at the school or academy. Generally hearings last around one to one and a half hours.
During the panel
You can take a friend or representative to the review and your child can attend. The panel will follow a set structure which will be explained.
You will be given the opportunity to state your case in full, ask questions and to sum up at the end of the hearing.
You should include in your case anything which you feel is relevant. You may submit documents or supporting evidence. If papers are submitted in advance the panel will have more time to consider them prior to the hearing.
The panel comprises three (or very occasionally five) independent persons. The chair of the panel will be a lay member. This is somebody who has not worked in a school or academy in a paid capacity. The other panel members will be a school governor and a head teacher. Where possible, the panel will usually be drawn from outside of the local area.
The head teacher will attend and may bring a witness (who often will be a member of staff). There may also be a governor in attendance.
In deciding whether the governing board’s decision was flawed, and therefore whether to overturn the decision, the panel must only take account of the evidence that was available to the governing board at the time of it making its decision not to reinstate. This includes any evidence that the panel considers would, or should, have been available to the governing board, and that should have been taken into account when reaching a decision.
Special educational needs (SEN) experts
You can also request the presence of an independent special educational needs (SEN) expert. You can do this regardless of whether the school recognises that the child has SEN. The review request form allows you to confirm whether you will require an SEN expert to be present at the hearing.
The SEN expert should be a professional with first-hand experience of the assessment and support of children with SEN, as well as an understanding of the legal requirements on schools in relation to SEN and disability. Examples of suitable individuals include Educational Psychologists, specialist SEN teachers, Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) and behaviour support teachers. The local authority/academy trust should request that prospective SEN experts declare any conflict of interest at the earliest opportunity.
The focus of the SEN expert’s advice should be on whether the school’s policies which relate to SEN, or the application of these policies in relation to the excluded pupil, were lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair.
SEN experts do not represent the parents or guardian of an excluded child at the hearing.
The SEN expert's role at the IRP meeting is not to make an assessment of the child's particular needs. The focus of the SEN expert advice should be on whether the school or academy policies relating to SEN were legal, fair and reasonable in relation to the permanently excluded pupil. If the school or academy does not recognise that the pupil has special needs then the SEN expert can advise on whether they acted in a legal, reasonable and procedurally fair way in relation to identifying any SEN. They can also advise about any contribution which this could have made to the circumstances of the permanent exclusion.
The outcome of the review (IRP)
The panel may:
- uphold the exclusion decision
- recommend that the governing body reconsiders its decision
- quash the decision and direct that the governing body considers the exclusion again.
An independent review panel does not have the power to reinstate an excluded pupil. Nor does it have the power to remove the exclusion from a pupil's record.
The Independent Review Panel’s decision is binding upon the pupil, parents, governing board, head teacher and local authority.
If the school or academy governors are asked or directed to re-consider they must arrange to do this within ten school days of the decision of the panel. If they have been directed to reconsider and do not re-instate the pupil then the school or academy may have an additional budget deduction of £4,000 imposed by the panel.
If the panel upholds the permanent exclusion and you disagree with the decision, the Local Government Ombudsman can consider any procedural anomalies which you feel may have occurred. A Judicial Review of the decision can be sought if you feel that it is unreasonable.
The Ombudsman or the Courts cannot reinstate the pupil to the school or academy. The Secretary of State cannot change the decision of the panel.
Children with particular needs or disabilities
The jurisdiction of the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) and County Court to hear claims of discrimination relating to a permanent exclusion does not preclude an Independent Review Panel from considering issues of discrimination in reaching its decision.
For more information on this please see the First-tier Tribunal website (also known as SENDIST).