Quick-Guide: the governors' panel review

This Quick-Guide sets out the law and practice on the role of the governors in the exclusion review process.

This Quick-Guide covers:

  1. The requirement that an exclusion be reviewed by a school’s governors;
  2. The procedure for governors reviewing a school exclusion;
  3. Fairness in governing body hearings;
  4. The findings the governors must make as a part of a review;
  5. The governor’s duties once they have reviewed the exclusion.

1. The requirement that an exclusion be reviewed by a school’s governors.

The governors must meet to consider any exclusion that triggers a compulsory review within 15 school days of the imposition of the exclusion, according to Regulation 24 of the Exclusion Regulations.

The following exclusions should trigger a compulsory review:

  • All permanent exclusions;
  • Any fixed term exclusion that takes the total number of school days that the student has been excluded to more than 15 in any one term;
  • An exclusion that would result in a young person missing a national examination or test.

Exclusions that bring the total number of school days that a student has been excluded to more than five but less than 15 in any one term must be reviewed on request of the parents. The time limit for reviewing these exclusions is 50 school days.

The governors must take reasonable steps to secure the attendance of the headteacher, the parent or guardian of the young person and, where requested, a representative of the local authority A government organisation with jurisdiction over a local area such as a borough or county, often called a local council. Where multiple authorities overlap, the local education authority (LEA) has responsibility for excluded children. . These parties must be invited and, if they choose to attend, given the opportunity to make representations.

This does not necessarily require the headteacher to be present, but in practice it is the headteacher who decides whether or not to exclude someone so it would be rare for them not to be present. If they are not, it is hard to be able to say that the review has been satisfactory as the family will not have had the opportunity to present a case to the school’s governors.

The number of governors that must hear an exclusion depends on whether the school is maintained or an academy.

In a maintained school A school that is funded by and under the control of the local authority A government organisation with jurisdiction over a local area such as a borough or county, often called a local council. Where multiple authorities overlap, the local education authority (LEA) has responsibility for excluded children. . there must be at least three governors.

In an academy may have fewer governors if the school’s articles of association specifically allow it. In practice, it is unlikely that you will find a panel with less than three governors.

2. The procedure for governors reviewing a school exclusion

There is no law to tell governors what the order or content of a review hearing should be. However, a fairly typical format is:

  1. Introductions from the panel and attendees;
  2. The school makes a statement;
  3. The panel and family ask questions of the school;
  4. The family make a statement;
  5. The panel and school ask questions of the family;
  6. The school makes a closing statement;
  7. The family makes a closing statement.

Whilst the order in which these components take place may vary, it is important that they all take place.

3. Fairness in governing body hearings

It is a requirement that governors ensure that the hearings are procedurally fair.

Procedural fairness is a public law concept. It says that flawed or unfair processes will result in a decision to exclude someone being challengeable even where the substance of the decision is not questioned. Every party that oversees exclusions has a duty to be fair. This includes the headteacher, governors and independent review panel.

There are therefore a number of standard practices that panel hearings should observe to satisfy this requirement. These include that:

  • All parties should enter the hearing room and leave the hearing room at the same time. If one party leaves no others should remain behind to ensure they cannot discuss the case with the governors in private;
  • All parties should be given equal time and parties should not be allowed to speak over one another;
  • Sufficient time should be allowed for the hearing so submissions can be fully heard;
  • The panel should not pre-judge arguments or disallow parties from making arguments they want to raise in their defence.

These practices are not exhaustive and a common-sense approach to fairness should touch on every part of the review process. 

There will inevitably be a disparity in power between the family and the school, as the school is likely to be well practised and has an existing relationship with the governors. Fairness will, at times, require extra care to ensure that the family are able to engage with the process even if this means giving liberties to the family that might not be available to the school.

For example: James is in the middle of his exclusion panel hearing. He wants to add a new point during his closing statement, but the school objects saying that this is not the time to introduce new information. This is technically true, but James has never been through this process before and is alone against a practised headteacher and before a panel of governors who are comfortable with the headteacher, being in a working relationship with them.

In such circumstances, it would be reasonable to expect the school to know the process and stick to it, but greater care should be taken to ensure that James is able to present his case, even if he has not followed all the normal procedures.

4. The findings the governors must make as a part of a review;

Governors must reach conclusions on questions of fact and law.

Findings of fact

The governors must conclude what happened on the balance of probabilities The legal test for governors to decide what the correct facts are in exclusion reviews. Where there is a dispute about what happened, the governors and independent review panels should decide which is more likely to be correct on the evidence available. .

The governors must consider the evidence presented to them but should also take steps to see any further evidence that they should reasonably expect to see before forming a conclusion.

Example: Jonathan is permanently excluded and attends a governor’s panel. Jonathan provides a statement to say that he did not start the fight as he is accused of doing. The school says there is CCTV of it. The governors fail to take steps to view the CCTV before deciding that Jonathan’s statement is wrong.

The governors have failed to obtain relevant evidence that they could be reasonably be expected to avail themselves of. This may constitute a procedural flaw.

Findings in law

The governors will need to undertake a full review of the lawfulness A legal principle. It requires that public bodies such as a school or IRP must only take decisions that they have been given the power to take in law. of the headteacher’s decision, applying all the relevant law.

5. the governors’ duties once they have reviewed an exclusion

Minutes

The governors must keep a minute of the meeting. This must be made available to all parties “on request”.

Obtaining the decision

Most of the time, you will not get a decision on the day.

Governors are directed to communicate the decision to the family “without delay”. Usually, in practice, you should expect to get the decision within the first week after the hearing.

The outcome letter

The governor’s decision letter must set out the reasons for its decision in “sufficient detail” to enable all parties to understand why it was made.

However, there is also a general public law duty to give reasons that provides greater clarity to the detail of the reasoning that must be provided. Families should be able to understand why their submissions were rejected, and understand the basis on which the governors have come to their conclusions, not just to recieve confirmation of the conclusions themselves.

For example: Sai's family told the governors he should have been on the SEN Special Educational Needs, a requirement a child has in school without which they will be disadvantaged when compared to their peers. registed. The school explained that this was not necessary. Both parties provided evidence to support their positions. All the governors confirmed in their letter was that they "agreed with the school" without setting out why that was. This would likely constitute insufficient reasons.

Removing the young person from the school’s register

A young person’s name must be removed from the schools register if the governors uphold the exclusion, and 15 school days pass without the family requesting a review by IRP.

If an IRP is requested within this time period then the student’s name cannot be removed until the IRP is resolved, either because it has sent the decision back to the governors and they have completed their reconsideration, or because the IRP has upheld the exclusion.