We give great weight to head teachers' views, expressed individually or through their associations, when formulating exclusions policy. We back head teachers' authority where pupils' behaviour warrants exclusion and have reformed appeal panels to strike a better balance between the interests of the individual and those of the school.
What do the National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers have in common? They all support the policy that head teachers should have the final say on exclusions. Why will not the hon. Gentleman and his ministerial team listen to what professionals in the classroom are saying? Is not that the reason why Labour's support among teachers is haemorrhaging every day?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. The SHA has a policy of full support for the appeal panels; John Dunford is on record as supporting our stance. The only union that the hon. Gentleman listed that has a clear policy with which he would agree is the NASUWT. As for our support among teachers, the poll in The Times Educational Supplement to which I think he was referring showed that support among teachers for the Conservative party had fallen from 10 to 9 per cent.
Despite all that, I wonder whether the Minister might apply himself to the real fact: many head teachers feel that on those most difficult occasions they do not have the power, authority or support to make decisions that are very tough for a head to make. Those decisions should be entirely in their hands, if schools in some of the most difficult areas, which are to be found in many of our constituencies, are to be run in a way that gives responsibility to the head.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a thoughtful contribution, and it is absolutely fair to say that head teachers often operate in very challenging circumstances. That is why we reformed the appeal panels in the light of the concerns that have been raised—for example, by the Secondary Heads Association—to give much greater weight to the views of those on appeal panels with direct experience, including head teachers.
I should like to share with the House the fact that in the most recent year for which we have figures—2002–03—there were more than 9,000 exclusions, about 10 per cent. of which were appealed. The total number of successful appeals was 149. We must have an appeals system in the interests of natural justice. That view is shared by the Secondary Heads Association, but I absolutely concur with the right hon. Gentleman that we need to give clear support to head teachers in what is often a challenging job for them in many of our schools.
Is it not the reality of the Government's plan to force every school to take on excluded pupils that they will give head teachers less say on exclusions, but is it not right to give them the final word on exclusions in the interests of those children who want learn but who may have been prevented from doing so by the amount of disruption in our classrooms?
We are indeed working with schools so that they can collaborate locally to ensure the best possible pupil behaviour. That has been welcomed by head teachers, the other unions and school governors, and we should work together to ensure that that approach is successful. Ultimately, if we do not have appeal panels, parents will go to court. Do we really want our court system clogged up with parents appealing against such decisions? I understand that the Conservative party has said that it will deal with that by denying legal aid to parents who want to go to court. In other words, the Conservatives are saying that only rich kids will be able to appeal in those circumstances; poorer kids will not be able to do so. Our system may be imperfect, but it is the best one on offer to ensure the right balance between the needs of the schools and those of the individual pupil.