“Exclud-sive” Education?

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St. Olave’s Grammar School, Orpington, Kent, has appeared in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. The allegation levelled at the school was that it was preventing willing but less able students from progressing into their final A-level year.

Its website proudly stated that academic results achieved by students are among the very best in the country, leading to places at top universities, art and music colleges. Individuals and teams achieve success consistently at national level in academic competitions, sports and a broad range of activities.

What emerged from a variety of sources however were reports of excluding students based on weaker academic performance. Specifically, these reports described a situation where pupils in Year 12 were prevented from progressing to Year 13 because these pupils failed to obtain specific grades, which were deemed by the school to fall short of its minimum academic performance criteria.

The ability to academically select pupils based on results going into Year 12 is acceptable provided the criteria is consistent for students making application internally and externally. However in law this provision does not extend or apply into Year 13 or provide a right to exclude a pupil just because they have performed poorly in year 12. The law makes it very clear that exclusion (whether fixed or permanent) is based on a student’s conduct. What this means practically, is that a student can be excluded for bad behaviour/attendance. The law does not provide for excluding students based on academic performance once they have started their A level course.

It is generally acceptable for schools to have Sixth Form Progression Policies. These policies usually seek to support and aid students who struggle by diverting them to other subject selections or suggesting alternatives to continuing with A-levels. Framed with the best interest of the student in mind they can be extremely effective and help the student. The danger for schools is where the best interest of the student may conflict with the interest of the school to perform well in league tables. In that situation it can be too easy for the school to be accused of using a progression policy to protect its league position. Schools must therefore be extremely open and transparent in the exercise of such policies. These policies should be regularly reviewed as they may be subject to legal challenge.

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