School group to review policy after judge rules decision breached 'natural justice' The English Schools Foundation (ESF) is reviewing its exclusion policy after a judge quashed a decision to expel a boy from school. The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was expelled from an ESF school and banned from 15 others on March 26 but his mother was granted a judicial review of the decision in May. Yesterday, Mr Justice Michael Hartmann, sitting in the Court of First Instance, ruled that there had been a 'breach of natural justice' and a 'failure to act fairly' on the part of the ESF and quashed both decisions. The court heard that the boy's academic history was marked by exceptional grades but marred by difficulties in maintaining friendships with other children, which culminated in a tendency towards outbursts of violence. Matters came to a head on March 23 when, after being called 'Berry Boy' by another Primary Six pupil, the boy grabbed his taunter on or around the neck and pushed him against a wall. On March 26, the boy's parents were told of the decision to expel him. But they insisted a proper and fair procedure should be adopted so that his version of events could be presented. At another meeting on March 30, the parents expressed their concerns about the expulsion. The school undertook to review the decision, consult the school psychologist and allow the boy to put his side of the story across. But at the next meeting on April 15, the parents were instead told that their son constituted a danger to other children and should be expelled. Mr Justice Hartmann said: 'In what was apparently anxiety to deal rapidly with the problem, thereby looking to the safety of other pupils, the school and the ESF failed to listen to what either [the boy] had to say in mitigation or what his parents had to say on his behalf. In failing to give the parents the opportunity to be heard, the school and the ESF went against the very procedure which they had set in the recognised interests of fairness. I am unable to accept that, looking to all matters ... the parents were dealt with fairly.' Mr Justice Hartmann said the failure of the ESF constituted a material breach of the rules of natural justice. But he added that the parents' submissions that the decision to expel their son was 'irrational' would have been very difficult to sustain in light of his past history of violent outbursts. John Tustin, the ESF's acting secretary and chief executive, said it had a policy on excluding students but this did not cover primary schools, where severe disciplinary breaches were rare. But the policy was already under review and would be extended to primary schools by the start of the autumn term. 'We are disappointed that the verdict went against the ESF due to a technical irregularity,' Mr Tustin said. 'It is important to note that the rationality of the decision, and the ESF's motives throughout, were not drawn into question by the court. 'We have learnt from this case and this will influence the review.' Mr Tustin said the ESF recognised the need to involve parents at every stage of managing behavioural problems and to listen to parents before a final decision was made to exclude a student. 'We deeply sympathise with the child in this traumatic period. We have not yet been approached by the parents to ask for a place in any of our schools,' he said.