CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Guardian
At least three schools ditch policy after it was exposed by the Guardian and declared illegal by the government, the Guardian reports.
Angry parents are forcing schools across England to rethink controversial policies used to force pupils out of courses midway through their sixth-form years, after the practice was exposed by the Guardian and declared unlawful by the government.
At least three schools have already abandoned their policy after parents complained, while a string of others are considering amending policies that required pupils to achieve set targets in order to continue from year 12 to year 13.
One of those that has dropped the requirement is Fortismere, a popular comprehensive in north London, that used to be run by Aydin Önaç, head of St Olave’s grammar school in Kent, where the illegal practice was first exposed.
One parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said her daughter had been told she could not continue into year 13 at Fortismere school in Muswell Hill, London. But after she had consulted lawyers, she was told the decision had been reversed in the last week.
“The main reason my daughter has been allowed to come back is because the policy on which the school’s decision was based is absolutely illegal. The decision was reversed in 24 hours following receipt of my solicitor’s email. She is now getting the help she needs,” the parent said.
A spokesperson for the school confirmed to the Guardian that students who wished to stay on would be allowed to do so: “Our key focus is doing what is best for our students. In line with the school’s admissions policy, all students who underperform at AS are offered a guidance meeting to discuss the most suitable pathway. All students who wished to remain at Fortismere this year have done so.”
Dan Rosenberg, a lawyer representing the St Olave’s parents, said his firm Simpson Millar had been contacted by numerous parents with children at schools implementing similar policies, although he noted that most of them were “less extreme”.
He said Justine Greening now needed to intervene. “This appears to be a national problem and should be of huge concern to everyone, and demand the attention of the education secretary,” he said.
Another parent, who also asked for anonymity, said her daughter had failed two of her four AS exams and was told she could not return to her school in York for year 13. But the school relented after the St Olave’s case was raised by the parent.
“My daughter was devastated. I sent links to the school of the various articles and they have accepted what the government is saying and have changed their approach,” she said. “Since then the school has been really helpful and taken action – they weren’t aware of the Department for Education’s views.”
Grammar schools in Buckinghamshire and Kent, along with comprehensives as far apart as London and York, have been applying the policies.
The Guardian revealed last month that St Olave’s grammar school in Kent had been ejecting students who did not get B or C grades in exams taken at the halfway point of their two-year A-level courses. Parents who protested were told that the school would refuse to enter sixth-formers for A-levels and said they would have to take vocational exams instead.
After widespread publicity the school reversed its policy as a number of families launched legal action charging that the practice was illegal.
According to the DfE’s guidance, schools can only exclude a pupil for disciplinary reasons. The guidance clearly states that schools cannot exclude pupils for “a reason such as academic attainment/ability. Excluding pupils temporarily or permanently for non-disciplinary reasons is unlawful.”
Other schools said they were considering revising their policies and letting sixth-formers back in. At Drayton Manor high school in west London, a 17-year-old student was told not to continue unless they stopped taking one of their A-levels – despite needing three subjects to apply to university.
“Opening the results, I felt like I was drowning – everything went blurry. I couldn’t hear anything going on. It felt like it was the end of the world,” they said.
A spokesperson for Drayton Manor school said: “Consideration is currently being given to a limited relaxation of the AS grade requirements to study specific subjects in year 13, following inquiries in the light of recent publicity relating to other schools.
“However, the school wishes to emphasise that requiring minimum grades at AS to proceed to A-level in a given subject was reviewed with the benefit of legal advice earlier this year, and the school continues to be advised that it is lawful to have such a policy.”
Families with children at Wycombe high school in Buckinghamshire have also complained, with one parent saying many pupils had left over the summer after being told they could not continue with their preferred A-levels. “The school is ‘guiding’ children to continue with subjects where they will preferably get an A grade,” said the parent of one girl who was told she couldn’t continue A-level chemistry.
Sharon Cromie, executive head at Wycombe high school, said the school was currently reviewing its admissions policy.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Students enrolled in a sixth form cannot be removed because of academic ability. The law is clear on this and we expect all schools to follow it. We have reminded headteachers of their responsibility on this point.”