Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

'Out of time' appeal results in exclusion challenge

Recently a challenge to an exclusion was made on the grounds that the local authority had wrongly ruled out an appeal because it had not been made by the 15th day. The mother in the case claimed that she had not had the initial letter from the governors. The local authority claimed it had not received the letter from the organisation which was helping the mother to appeal within the timeframe.

It transpired that the organisation sent the appeal by email but it arrived after the council offices were shut for the weekend. The council therefore claimed that the appeal, which was not read until Monday, was out of time. The LA claimed it had discretion to conclude that the mother was lying when she said she had not received the first letter.

The court ruled that the council had no such discretion. This was a matter of fact which had to be determined by a court. It also concluded that in the absence of any clarity in the legislation, the natural meaning of the time limit was midnight on the 15th school day after receipt of the letter.

It is difficult to reconcile the requirement simply to send a letter by first class post with the court's view that a parent's truthfulness can only be judged by a court. It would seem to be necessary at the least to get a certificate of posting for the decision letter or to give parents a written statement of their rights and the date of appeal when the decision of the governors is given out.

More helpfully, the courts have also decided that for a fixed-term exclusion, reasons for the exclusion may be in general terms. This makes the demands on the head less than are placed on the governors and the independent appeals panel, which are expected to make it clear what weight they put on the different evidence that was presented to them and the reasons for their decisions.

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