NGA: Replace governor exclusion boards with independent 'tribunals'

Governor boards for reviewing exclusions should be scrapped and replaced with independent “tribunals” of experts, the leading organisation for governance has told ministers.

Governors can feel the pressure not to overturn the headteacher’s decision, particularly where they know staff are stressed and feel they cannot cope with a pupil, according to Emma Knights (pictured), chief executive of the National Governance Association.

“Excluding a pupil is a technical and legal matter, not a governance issue,” she said. “It’s not about the strategic direction of the school so governors shouldn’t be responsible for it.”

The NGA has submitted the proposal to the government’s exclusion review led by former minister Ed Timpson, where it is being analysed with other feedback.

However some critics claim the suggestion undermines trust in governors to do their job properly.

Knights, who tweeted the NGA’s suggestion in a discussion on exclusions this morning, said pupils should be heard by a properly independent “exclusions tribunal” in the same way that teachers who appeal being sacked are heard by an employment tribunal.

“Other sectors don’t have people who also act as appeals bodies for their own institutions. They’d be laughed out of the room.”

At the moment, governors in council-run schools can delegate exclusion decisions to a sub-committee of at least three governors, Department for Education guidance states. A local governing body of an academy can also do this if the trust’s articles of association allow it.

In both academies and maintained schools, the governing board must review permanent exclusions within two weeks.

They must also review fixed-term exclusions if it would result in the pupil missing an important exam or test, or brings the pupil’s total number of days out of school to more than 15 in one term.

Governors must also review a fixed-term exclusion if parents appeal it, within 50 school days after receiving the notice of exclusion.

If parents don’t appeal a suspension, then governors have no power to overrule it.

But Knights said governors should not be involved in reviewing exclusions at any point – appeal or no appeal.

The Department for Education at first told Knights the suggestion to remove governors from exclusion reviews was outside of the review remit led by Timpson. However they then told the NGA to submit the idea as part of their wider proposals.

The review closed its call for evidence in early May. It will focus on how and how often exclusions are used at different schools, with a focus on pupils most likely to be excluded such as certain ethnicities, poorer pupils and those with special educational needs.

We have to accept that governors can hold heads to account and withstand pressures

Mark Lehain, interim director of New Schools Network, asked Knights on Twitter for her evidence for the claim that “governors don’t review exclusions well”.

He said it “sounded like a training issue” that could be resolved.

“We have to accept that governors can hold heads to account and withstand pressures – that’s their job,” said Lehain, adding governors already do this for performance and pay reviews.

“If they can’t do that, do we get rid of them full stop? I doubt you’re advocating that”.

When Schools Week asked Knights whether there are enough experts in local areas to sit on exclusion tribunals, she said the issue must be worked out by ministers.

She recommended looking at best practice in tribunals across other sectors.