New guidelines permit exclusion meetings to be held remotely
From 1st September 2023, the updated guidance ‘Suspensions and Permanent Exclusion from Maintained Schools, Academies and Pupil Referral Units in England, Including Pupil Movement’ comes into force. This will automatically apply to suspensions and permanent exclusions on or after this date.
One of the major changes to the guidance is that governing board reinstatement meetings and Independent Review Panel meetings may now be held remotely, for example, via video link. Although it is made clear that remote access should not be the default option, and that the guidance favours face-to-face meetings, this is an important development.
Who decides on the format?
It will be the responsibility of the parent (or excluded pupil if aged 18 or over) to request that the meeting be held via remote access. Where there has been no request to hold the meeting remotely, the meeting must be held face-to-face unless there are extraordinary events or unforeseen circumstances, such as infectious illness outbreaks or a school closure due to fire or flood.
Both the head teacher’s written notification of suspension or permanent exclusion and the governing board’s written notification of the right to an Independent Review Panel (IRP), must set out the right to request a remote meeting and the instructions for making that request. If the request for remote access has been made correctly, the governing board or arranging authority must still be satisfied that the meeting can be held in this way fairly and transparently.
What if my child was excluded before 1st September?
If a child was excluded before 1st September but the governing board meeting has not yet taken place, the head teacher must notify the parent on 1st September or as soon as possible afterwards, that they may make a request to the governing board that the meeting be held remotely. This also applies if the exclusion began before 1st September and the parent is entitled to but has not yet triggered a governing board meeting.
If a child was excluded before 1st September but an IRP meeting has not yet been held, the parents must be notified by the governing board on 1st September or as soon as possible afterwards, that they may request that the meeting be held remotely. As with the governing board meeting, this also applies where a parent is entitled to apply for an IRP but is yet to do so.
In both cases, the notification must give instructions as to how to request a remote hearing and to whom, and that the request must be made within three school days of receiving the notification. If no request is made, the meeting must be conducted in the same way as a meeting for an exclusion occurring on or after 1st September.
When should the meeting take place?
Whether the governing board meeting to consider and decide upon reinstatement happens face-to-face or remotely, it must happen within 15 school days of receiving notice of a suspension or permanent exclusion from the headteacher. An IRP meeting, either face-to-face or accessed remotely, must begin within 15 school days of the day on which the parents’ application for review was made, but it may be adjourned if it necessary to do so.
What if the technology fails?
Of course, technology is great when it is working. Network, broadband and hardware issues can often complicate matters and prevent the meeting from being held fairly and transparently. Before making a request, parents ought to consider whether or not they have the requisite technological means to access a remote hearing in a way which will permit both video and audio so that they can see and be seen, hear and be heard. They should also have a space free from distractions which may prevent them from fully participating. In some areas, internet speed is slow and bandwidth incapable of maintaining a video link.
If unexpected problems arise on the day and it is not possible to resolve any technological issues at the time, a face-to-face meeting must be organised without delay, even if the parents originally requested a remote hearing.
There are occasions when social workers and Virtual School Heads are required to attend the meeting. In such cases, they must be allowed to attend remotely regardless of whether the parents requested face-to-face or remote access, so long as the governing board or arranging authority is satisfied that participation will be effective, and that the meeting will be fair and transparent.
What does fairness and transparency mean?
Fairness and transparency are key in deciding whether or not a meeting can be held remotely. Every participant must be able to make full representations and carry out their function properly, hear and be heard, see and be seen. All participants must understand proceedings, be made aware of how to raise any issues preventing full participation and engagement, and have clear guidance on how to participate.