Both the main headteachers’ organisations have called for the powers of independent appeals panels on exclusions to be reduced in submissions to the government’s leadership group on behaviour and discipline.

The Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers are both concerned that appeals panels should not be allowed to substitute their own judgement for that of the head or governors’ panel. SHA argues that the powers of appeals panels should be limited to commenting on the extent to which procedures and school policy were followed.

The NAHT believes that, ‘IAPs should only consider whether there has been fairness and openness, ie that natural justice has prevailed’.

The latest statistics on school exclusions in England showed a slight increase in the number of appeals going in favour of the pupil, although there was a fall in the number of pupils reinstated after a successful appeal.

The schools minister, Jacqui Smith, attacked the ‘false notion’ that many heads are unwilling to exclude or that any exclusion they make will be overturned on appeal. She said the new figures ‘show that to be nonsense’ with permanent exclusions up by 6% while the number of pupils reinstated on appeal is down to just 130 pupils.

In 1999-2000, 36.7% of appeals went in favour of the excluded pupil. This fell to 21.1% in 2002-2003 and was only marginally higher in 2003-2004 at 21.2%. The total number of pupils permanently excluded from school rose by 590 last year after falling by 250 the year before. Permanent exclusions are still almost 20% lower than they were in 1997-1998.

Much of the fall has been in the number of boys excluded. There were only 100 fewer girls excluded last year than in 1997-1998 and during that time the percentage of permanently excluded pupils who are girls has risen from 16% to 19%.

For the first time data has also be published on fixed period exclusions. This shows that there were 344,510 fixed period exclusions in 2003-2004 involving 201,780 pupils, for an average length of 3.8 days.

The reasons for pupils being excluded have also been published for the first time. Persistent disruptive behaviour was the reason for 31% of permanent exclusions and 26% of fixed period exclusions. Verbal abuse or threatening behaviour against an adult led to 22% of fixed and 11% of permanent exclusions, while physical assault against a pupil prompted 20% of fixed and 17% of permanent exclusions.