“There is life after expulsion”
- Jan. 21, 2009
If your child is expelled from school it may feel as though the house has come crashing down on you. Heads are sympathetic, though, and prepared to offer a second chance, says Rosa Ingram
Sometimes young people and parents can make the wrong choices. A young person might not be suited to boarding, only half wants to be there and may be disruptive
Mark Pyper, headteacher of Gordonstoun
“There is life after expulsion. Do not panic,” is the wise counsel offered by Dr John Newton, Headmaster of Taunton School in Somerset. Expulsion is a ‘lifetime moment’, Dr Newton says, but, “Like bereavement, it only really happens once and it might be for the best – a catalyst or turning point.” His advice to parents is, “Take a deep breath and use the experience to open the floodgates to dialogue. Try to pull things together and pull your relationship with your child together. Put away the angry impulse, this is key for the child.
“How parents cope with the first 24 hours is vital. Sometimes suspension can be the first step to expulsion and this is a time to exercise real caution. Locking them in their room is not a good investment of emotional energy. Get constructive, think positive and don’t give up hope. Ask ‘can we put this right?’ Talk to the housemistress, try and get to the bottom of the problem.”
Dr Newton acknowledges that relationships between parents, pupils and schools do breakdown sometimes and being faced with expulsion is a huge emotional challenge: “There is a stigma; a sense of failure. It is the ultimate sanction and it causes ultimate emotion. But, he adds, “Trust the school. No one expels lightly. No one does it for fun.
“Schools have to be consistent. It’s advisable for parents to read the small print and know what the school stance is on big issues. Schools are duty bound to act on policies and rules must be applied fairly and consistently. We protect ourselves by being consistent. Schools don’t change their minds.”
Everyone deserves a second chance
Being expelled might feel like the end of the world, but happily there is a consensus amongst headteachers within the independent sector that everyone deserves a second chance. Heads will talk to each another and advocate on behalf of parents if they feel it’s deserved. Dr Newton exercises caution: “If I take anyone on a red card, I always involve a second master. We need to be sure that the student is right for Taunton. We look for a genuine sense of contrition and we need the previous headteacher and the parents to convince us that the situation is redeemable. We do some soul searching. But we know that human beings can change and improve.”
In 13 years of headship Mr P K Fulton-Peebles has only expelled one pupil. He comments, “Kids make mistakes. Heads are prepared to look sympathetically at individual cases, but with understandable caution.”
He charitably volunteers that he would be prepared to offer a place at King Edward's to one of the two (but not both) pupils who were expelled from a private school recently over a sex scandal. Dr Newton would also consider offering a place at Taunton to one of the two, as would Mark Pyper, principal at Gorsonstoun School, provided that prior to the offence the student had a ‘good record’.
Mr Pyper points out that there is now less stigma attached to taking a student who has been expelled from another school, but that it is “a matter of degree. If a school was to take quite a number it would get a bad reputation”. Gordonstoun is prepared to readmit an expelled student, as Mr Pyper explains: “I sometimes say ‘you’ve got to go’, but I tell the parents that Gordonstoun has a sixth form intake and to approach me again then. I’ve done it twice and it’s worked out very well”.
If things go seriously wrong parents need to take stock and ask ‘How did we get here?’ Mr Pyper believes that young people – and parents – can make the wrong choices. “Sometimes a young person is just not suited to boarding school and only half wants to be there. He or she may be disrupting the education of others, in which case we will communicate our concerns to the parents and a system of probation is put in place. If the young person refuses to change, they effectively write themselves out of the script.” Schools have different criteria on which behaviours will result in expulsion and terms such as ‘forbidden fruits’ and ‘major vices’ crop up. Misdemeanours include:
- Possession of dangerous weapons (an unlawful offence anyway)
- Drug and alcohol abuse and smoking (schools will have a drugs policy)
- Sexual misconduct
- Physical assault
- Persistent threatening behaviour
- Vandalism, damage to property
- Persistent absenteeism
- Failure to complete work
A new addition to the list is the cyber dimension which makes for ‘interesting twists’ in Dr Newton’s opinion: He adds: “The mobile phone/Facebook culture we live in offers opportunities for pupils to hurt others very badly. It’s definitely a sackable offence.”
In every case schools must be seen to be acting in a reasonable manner and within the bounds of ‘natural justice’. There must be a complaints procedure which will involve a detailed investigation and hearing attended by all parties, including the pupil, and a decision will be reached. If it’s not acceptable there will be an appeals procedure.
However, Mr Fulton-Peebles advises against the dispute route: “What you have here is a failed relationship between the school and the home. There’s far less stigma attached, and more freedom of action for the school to be able to offer help, if parents agree to withdraw the child, however unpalatable it may feel. Heads will always try to avoid expulsion – it’s the very last resort.
But if the gates have been locked, it’s the time to look beyond and ask, “Was this the right school for our child?’ It is vital to make an honest assessment of what and why things went wrong so that mistakes are not repeated. There’s rarely a third chance.
Take it further
Parents can address concerns which have not been resolved through the school's complaints procedure to:
Independent Schools Inspectorate 9-12 Long Lane, London EC1A 9HA
Tel: 020 7600 0100
Parents may also raise concerns direct with the schools regulator.
Contact Georgina Carney, Independent Education and Boarding Team, DCSF, Mowden Hall, Staindrop Road, Darlington DL3 9BG
Staplegrove Road, Taunton, Somerset TA2 6AD
Tel: 01823 349200
King Edward's School
Witley, Wormley, Godalming, GU8 5SG
Tel: 01428 686700
Get in touch
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