Chapters 10, 11 and 12 of Developing Codes of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools deal with the issues of suspension and expulsion from primary schools, including the legal and procedural requirements. Schools are advised that in drawing up or reviewing their Codes of Behaviour, they should follow the advice set out in these Guidelines. The Guidelines acknowledge a child’s right to education, but also the occasional need for schools to suspend or expel pupils where serious misbehaviour occurs. Schools are reminded that decisions to suspend (for a total of 20 days or more in the current school year) or expel are open to appeal (under Section 29 of the Education Act 1998) and may be subject to judicial review by the High Court.
A school should ensure that it has a policy and procedures around the use of suspension and expulsion, and these should be widely communicated.
Fair Procedures (see Chapter 10 of the Guidelines)
In the investigation of alleged misbehaviour, and in decision making around what, if any sanction should be imposed, it should be clear that fair procedures are adopted. Fair procedures have two essential parts:
- The right to be heard; and
- The right to impartiality.
The principles of fair procedure always apply, but the degree of formality required will depend on the gravity of the alleged misbehavour and the seriousness of the possible sanction. Procedures must be fair, and be seen to be fair. The need for confidentiality and timeliness in dealing with suspension and expulsion are also set out.
Suspension (See Chapter 11 of the Guidelines)
The board of management of a school has the authority to suspend. Where this authority is delegated to the principal it should be done formally and in writing. Suspension should be a proportionate response to the behaviour that is causing concern. Normally other interventions will have been tried before suspension and the school staff should have reviewed why these interventions have not worked. However, a single incident of misconduct may be grounds for suspension.
A decision to suspend a student requires that:
- The student and parents are informed of the complaint; and
- Parents and students are given an opportunity to respond.
A student should not be suspended for more than three days, except in exceptional circumstances, where the principal considers that it is warranted to achieve a particular objective. Where a suspension longer than three days is being proposed by the principal, the matter should be referred to the board. A board of management may wish to authorise the Principal, with the approval of the chairperson of the board, to impose a suspension of up to five days in circumstances where a meeting of the board cannot be convened in a timely fashion, subject to the guidance concerning such suspensions. The board should normally place a ceiling of 10 days on any one period of suspension imposed by it. Pupils should not be suspended for an indefinite period.
Schools should notify the parents and the student of decisions to suspend in writing. When the suspension ends, a plan should be made to reintegrate the student into the class, and pupils should be given the opportunity and support for a fresh start.
Expulsion (See Chapter 12 of the Guidelines)
The board of management of a school has the authority to expel a student. As a matter of best practice, this authority should not be delegated. Expulsion should be proportionate to the student’s behaviour and should only be invoked in extreme cases of unacceptable behaviour. The school should have taken significant steps to address the misbehaviour, and be satisfied that they have exhausted all possibilities for changing the student’s behaviour. There may exceptional circumstances where a board forms the opinion that the student should be expelled for a first offence, e.g. actual violence or physical assault.
Decisions to expel should follow fair procedures including:
- A detailed investigation carried out under the direction of the principal.
- A recommendation to the board of management by the principal.
- Consideration by the board of management of the principal’s recommendation; and the holding of a hearing.
- Board of management deliberations and actions following the hearing, including informing the Education Welfare Board of its opinion. (the student cannot be expelled before the passage of 20 days from the date that the NEWB receives this written notification)
- Consultations arranged by the Educational Welfare Officer.
- Confirmation of the decision to expel.
Decisions to expel are subject to appeal under Section 29 of the Education Act.