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Posted on: 09/03/2023

The benefits of governing body collaboration on exclusion panels

EPHA ran an online training session for governors to highlight the benefits to governing bodies collaborating on statutory committees like exclusion panels.

The challenge, for small schools especially, is that governors wear many hats and in close-knit communities it's harder to find impartial governors to sit on an exclusion panel.

Pam Langmead is the professional officer for EPHA and she counts 61 small schools in Essex with fewer than 120 pupils. 

This FREE training session for governors, which Pam will run again, supplements the DfE guidance to explain the role of governors, things to look for, questions to ask etc. 

"Even co-opted governors may also be parents at the school, or could have heard details about the case from friends or neighbours, so a collaborative arrangement gives us access to truly impartial governors for an exclusion panel," explained Pam. One governor shared that they set up a collaboration within their school partnership.  

"Also, having the infrastructure in place means you’re less likely to run out of eligible or available governors at a critical time." Pam has some suggested wordings to set up this statutory and standing committee, which has to be agreed in advance with defined terms of reference. The terms of reference document has to mention that they have this collaborative agreement in place.

In tricky situations, where governors seem too willing to accept the headteacher’s decision, collaborations are useful to prevent upsetting the relationship with the headteacher. One governor recommended: "Make sure the chair of the panel is from another school, as they have the casting vote.”  

Governors should be aware that some pupils are more likely to face exclusion than others.

Boys, children from a traveller community, eligible for FSM, and children with poor attendance are all statistically more likely to face suspension or exclusion from school. 

Boys are twice as likely to be suspended than girls, and three times more likely to be excluded.

The most common age for exclusion is 14. 

Schools can give up to three reasons why a child is suspended or excluded and the reason(s) must be included in the letter notifying of the suspension or exclusion.

In primary schools, the most common reason for exclusion is persistent disruptive behaviour.

After this, the most common reasons for exclusion in primary schools are physical assault against an adult, then use of a weapon.

The new data on exclusions will be published in April and this will offer a clearer picture of the post-covid response to exclusion. Pam's training sessions after April will include the updated statistics.  

Between September 2022 to end the of February 2023, there have been 6 intentions to exclude reported to the LA in KS1, 22 in KS2, 65 in KS3, 76 in KS4 and 1 in KS5 across Essex. (Source)

Governing bodies everywhere are hearing that children are coming into school less able to communicate, less abe to socialise and self-regulate.  

The guidance on exclusions was fairly significantly updated in September 2022.

The new guidance no longer asks governors in an exclusion panel whether or not they uphold the decision of the headteacher. Governors must now test the arguments put forward by the school to justify their exclusion decision is lawful, reasonable and fair. If these conditions are not met, the decision must be overturned. 

Pam insisted: "The new guidance on behaviour is linked with this guidance and all other avenues should be exhausted before this last resort is sought."

One of the changes governors should be aware of is that the headteacher may cancel an exclusion if it has not yet gone to governors.  

Another change is about notification; if there is a suspension or permanent exclusion of any length, the school must notify the LA, which has a dedicated emailbox. Essex schools Infolink, under Pupil Support, has an Education Access page for the team that manages exclusions in Essex.  

Governors must ask challenging questions to assure themselves children at their school are not being discriminated against.  

Governors should have a system in place to ensure they are aware of any pupil showing persistent poor behaviour or not responding to low level sanctions.  

Does this show a pattern of behaviour? Do all of the children facing suspension or exclusion have SEND, protected characteristics, or lower attendance? For more questions the exclusion panel must ask and minute, see page 14 of Pam's training for governors handout. 

Governors will find more useful advice within, including: 

  1. Governors should be sat separately to the headteacher so they are seen to be separate so there’s no suggestion that governors aren’t impartial. Governors could wear name badges so that everyone knows who people are. Avoid using first names so it remains formal. 
  2. It is considered that a managed move is better for a child than a permanent exclusion. One governor had the experience that the guardian refused a managed move, which stopped the whole process in its tracks. The managed move can only be carried out with the agreement of all parties.
  3. The younger the child, the more likely their parent or carer is going to represent their case at the disciplinary committee meeting, subject to the parent or guardian giving approval. It's uncommon for a younger child to attend, or even be invited to their exclusion meeting.  
  4. If someone tables a new report at the exclusion panel meeting, the clerk should adjourn the meeting so that each party can read that report in a separate space if the committee considers that the report is relevant. Governors shouldn’t dismiss the report or the information within. 
  5. The allowances during covid for online meetings are not best practice and have been revoked. 
  6. Most cases don’t go to an Independent Review Panel, but the number is increasing. This isn't because the quality of governance decisions is getting poorer, rather that parents are increasingly aware of their rights.  

One governor shared: "The IRP looked at the make-up of the panel, and the evidence, and asked the same questions from the list of questions and their decision was that the governing had to re-convene within ten days to look at it again." This can be a different clerk and a entirely different panel of governors to obtain a completely independent result. The IRP can also quash and direct if it considers the decision was unlawful, and direct the school to reinstate the pupil; which the governing body can still refuse to do. 

Pam will run this free training for governors again later in the term, and in the summer term. It is suitable for experienced governors as well as those who haven't yet been involved with suspensions and exclusions. Each session will last two hours and upcoming dates include:

  • Wednesday 29th March at 6.00 pm
  • Wednesday 19th April at 4.00 pm
  • Thursday 11th May at 6.00 pm

The Zoom links to join the session will be on the EPHA website and promoted via headteachers to governing bodies.

Governors interested in setting up a collaboration for an exclusion committee should initially speak with their chair of governors. Governors can submit their training report, with key take-outs from the resources found in this article, to their clerk or training link governor to be included in an upcoming FGB.





Written by Claire Styles