BY FREDDY GRAY
A CATHOLIC headmaster’s decision to expel pupils for peddling cannabis has been overruled.
An independent appeals panel declared that the expulsion of three 15-yearold boys was “too harsh.” Parents and teachers of St Mary’s secondary school, Ludwardine, Herefordshire are appalled by the panel.
“Everyone is furious,” said one parent. “This is giving the message that it is okay to go into school and roll up a spliff.” In March, the boys were caught with cannabis; two of them were accused of dealing the illegal drug out to other pupils, while the third boy was alleged to have passed a joint on to his contemporaries.
The pupils quickly owned up to the offences, and were promptly expelled, with the support of the school’s board of governors. But the independent panel said that the boys felt genuine remorse for their crimes, and no longer represented a threat to other pupils.
Mr Clive Lambert, the head teacher of St Mary’s, said that reinstating the boys into the school amounted to “a serious attack on the autonomy of schools.
“What got under our skin is the fact that we followed our policy and government guidelines to the letter, and an appeals panel can over turn school policy like that,” he said. “A lot of parents are very angry.” St Mary’s is now entitled to a judicial review of the panel’s decision, but this would prove expensive and could take months.
Mr Chris Keates, chairman of the National Association of Schoolteachers and Union of Women Teachers (NAS/UWT), said that independent panels should not interfere with a school’s right to exclude pupils.
“It is crucial that schools are supported in sending a really strong message that drug dealing is unacceptable,” he told the Daily Mail. “It is unbelievable that appeals panels reinstate pupils who have dealt drugs.” The government’s education department recommends that schools use permanent exclusion of pupils only as a last resort; but the use of illegal drugs is considered a grave enough offence to merit expulsion.
Eric Hester, a retired Catholic headmaster, said: “Catholic schools have a very good reputation for discipline, and it is very wrong when a group ofpeople who have nothing to do with the school interfere with this.
“Until the 1980s, Catholic heads were entitled to expel for any reason they saw fit, and it was the board of governers who dealt with appeals. That was a fair system.”