The headteacher of a grammar school that unlawfully kicked out lower-performing sixth-form students has been found guilty of misconduct, but avoided a ban from the profession.
A Teacher Regulation Panel ruling published yesterday stated Aydin Onac’s actions were at the “less serious end of the possible spectrum”.
Onac was the head at St Olave’s grammar school, in Orpington, south London, which booted out year 12 students who did not achieve high enough grades in their AS-levels.
Onac, who had been head since 2010, resigned in 2017 after parents issued judicial review proceedings. The school U-turned on its policy and 16 pupils who had been kicked out were reinstated.
An independent inquiry into the policy, which had been in place since 2009, later ruled it unlawful and found it “put the institution above the pupils”.
Onac was referred to the TRA in July of the following year.
The panel’s findings, published more than five years later, found his conduct did amount to misconduct of a “serious nature which fell significantly short of the standards expected of the profession”. But they ruled his actions “did not bring the profession into disrepute”.
Onac understood the policy “amounted to the unlawful exclusion of pupils”, the panel ruled. But he claimed he was not aware that this was unlawful at the time and said it was “common practice” amongst grammar schools.
The panel agreed his actions were “not deliberate”.
Adjudicator gave ‘no indication’ policy was unlawful
When the school’s policy was strengthened in 2013 – requiring pupils to achieve all Bs rather than Cs – Onac said the policy was considered by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, but “no indication” was given that the policy was unlawful.
An allegation the former head had prioritised academic performance over the best interest of pupils was found not proven.
However they did say his actions “seriously affected the education and wellbeing of pupils”.
The panel was provided with witness statements from five former pupils at the school.
One said the weeks after their exclusion from the school were “some of the worst in my life” and they had lost “confidence in their academic ability”.
Another said they were “pretty much in tears by the end of the conversation [after being told they must leave the school”.
Onac told the panel earlier this month the progression criteria was actually “designed to support the wellbeing of pupils” as the school’s “learning environment was targeted at A* and A grade pupils; if there was a pupil who was struggling to reach a B grade, that student would be under pressure in class, with coursework and homework.
“[He] saw this as a way of encouraging pupils and felt that another school may put these pupils under less pressure.”
No ban despite misconduct finding
He also did not consider that allowing pupils to retake year 12 was in their “best interests” because “these pupils would be a year below their peers and it would not be helpful for their self-esteem”.
However he admitted the policy broke Education Act laws and was contrary to Department for Education exclusions statutory guidance.
But he avoided a ban. The panel said adverse findings would “send an appropriate message”.
Another factor was that Onac had “demonstrated exceptionally high standards in both personal and professional conduct”. This included an article listing Onac among London’s most influential people in 2016.
Andrew Faux, representing Onac at the hearing, had applied to have the proceedings discontinued given they were “unreasonably delayed” with several hearings “abandoned with no meaningful communication” from the TRA.
Faux alleged no steps were taken to progress the case from March 2020 until the spring of 2022 when statements for pupils were obtained.
But the panel said this was not considered “sufficiently serious” to meet the threshold for discontinuance.
Teachers face years-wait for cases
Teacher Regulation Agency annual accounts, published in July, showed teachers were waiting more than two years on average for misconduct cases to conclude after waiting times for hearings worsened for a third year running.
Schools Week also revealed in 2018 a legal loophole meant rules banning the exclusion of pupils on the basis of academic performance does not apply to 16-19 free schools or sixth form colleges.
It followed our investigation revealing that Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre (The NCS), a selective 16-19 academy in east London, had booted year 12 pupils out.