The Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland is running an event on “Understanding Discrimination Law in Further and Higher Education” in Edinburgh on 21 February 2013. It is designed to assist Universities and Colleges to understand their duties in this area.
Iain Nisbet, of Govan Law Centre’s education law unit will be speaking at the event on “common pitfalls” and running a workshop on the claimant’s viewpoint.
Education Law Unit noted in Chambers:
Iain Nisbet of Govan Law Centre in Scotland has an excellent reputation for his work on exclusions, disability discrimination cases and transport to school issues.
The Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 came into force earlier this year and has already been subject to criticism about how well it protects rural schools from unnecessary closure proposals.
In a welcome move, Cabinet Secretary for Education, Mike Russell MSP has clarified the Scottish Government’s intentions in this area:
“Where an alternative to closure meets the educational needs of the children, the parents, the teachers and – in these financially difficult times – the council, we will ensure it is fully explored.
“We will work with communities, local authorities and stakeholders on fresh mandatory guidance that makes it clear to councils that they must consider all viable alternatives to closure – regardless of the source. They must listen to, examine, test and – when it holds water – accept any plan that a community brings forward to save a rural school.
“If a council fails to do so, I will not hesitate to call those plans in and halt those closures until all practical alternatives have been fully examined”
Govan Law Centre’s education law unit has been recommended in the new edition of The Legal 500 (UK):
“The education ranking includes only firms which act for academic institutions. For personal representation, the education law group of Govan Law Centre is recommended, in particular Iain Nisbet, who acts for parents and pupils in education law cases in courts across Scotland; ‘no other firm comes close’.”
Quoted in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland today:
Meanwhile, lawyers have claimed that the Government’s proposed regulation for a new legally-binding limit of class sizes to 25 in P1 fails to close a legal loophole exposed by a landmark Court of Session judgment in 2008. Lord Woolman ruled at the Haddington Sheriff Court that “class sizes are not affected by pupils placed by sheriffs or appeal committees”.
Earlier this year, the Government said it wanted to give councils the legal ability to limit P1 class sizes to 25 after a series of legal challenges by parents made it clear that the legal maximum was still 33.
Iain Nisbet, head of the education law unit at the Govan Law Centre in Glasgow, claims that the Government’s draft regulations, as they stand, would still allow parents making a placing request from outwith a catchment area to breach the proposed 25-pupil limit if they mount an appeal.
“We have got a situation where effectively the only way to maintain the 25 maximum is by being dishonest with parents and keeping secret the fact that if they appealed, they would automatically be successful,” he said.
Handouts from the presentation by the National Deaf Children’s Society Scotland at our Additional Support Needs and Disability in Schools conference on 16 November 2009.
- NDCS16Nov.pdf, Practical advice on meeting the needs of deaf pupils
The Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Bill, was passed by Parliament on 19 November 2009, and creates a new framework for consultation on school closures, and other major changes, that means educational issues must be taken into account.
The process will require to include consultation with pupils, staff, parents, parent councils and all other school users. There will be a mandatory six week term time consultation period. The Bill also requires full and detailed proposals to be provided at the start of a consultation and provides opportunities to challenge incomplete or inaccurate information.
For rural schools, councils will have to give full consideration to all viable alternatives, the impact on the community and the impact on travel arrangements, before consultation.
Finally an additional safeguard for school closures means Ministers will be able to call in decisions where they feel there have been serious flaws in the process.
Sandy Longmuir from the Scottish Rural Schools Network (SRSN) said
“SRSN is looking forward to seeing the Bill become law. We are already seeing some Local Authorities adopting its principles and this is leading to a greater understanding of the issues surrounding rural education. A number are currently engaging with parents and communities in line with the requirement in the Bill to look at alternatives to closure. This is leading to trust and cooperation where once there was none.
“Where schools do go to consultation on closure, the new robust consultation framework should ensure that all the relevant facts are aired leading to a greater understanding of the issues on all sides. We have always felt that the backstop of referral to the Minister in the case of a flawed consultation will be used infrequently as more open practices lead to better decision making.
“Taken as a whole, the new consultation procedures should ensure that parents, communities and elected members will be better informed, improve relationships with Local Authorities and provide a degree of external scrutiny to the process.”
An additional support needs unit at a school on Skye is to be investigated by HM Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) following complaints from parents, handled by Govan Law Centre.
Allegations include claims that one pupil was forced to do excessive levels of physical exercise, contrary to medical advice.
Parents of three children attending the unit at Portree High School contacted Govan Law Centre, which notified the Scottish Government through a statutory complaints mechanism. The Scottish Government has asked HMIE to visit the school to investigate the claims.
Solicitor Iain Nisbet felt the nature of the complaints was such that they should be referred to the Scottish Government.
He welcomed the action taken by ministers. “The legislation allows Scottish ministers to investigate and intervene in cases where there has been any breach of education law,”.
“Because we had been approached by a number of parents from the same school, we felt it was appropriate to alert the Scottish Government to these ongoing concerns.
“I am very pleased to see the prompt and effective response of the government and will await the report by HMIE with interest.”
A government spokesman said: “Ministers have asked HMIE to visit the Portree High School special needs unit following concerns raised through the Govan Law Centre.
“HMIE will report back to the Scottish government by the end of November when consideration will be given to whether any further action, if required, should be taken.”
The General Teaching Council for Scotland has issued a reprimand to Peter Brodie, rector of Glasgow Academy (an independent school). Following a misconduct hearing held after complaints from parents that he had interviewed a pupil in an unprofessional way and without allowing the pupil to be represented and supported by a responsible adult. The pupil in question was suspected of having brought drugs into school and was questioned for almost two hours without his parents being notified.
The GTCS have issued a reprimand with will last for a period of five years.
In a case in Inverness Sheriff Court, a secondary school teacher has been awarded over £70,000 in respect of loss of earnings and depression brought on by violent incidents at a special school, where she was repeatedly assaulted by a pupil with autism.
In the case of McCarthy v. The Highland Council, Sheriff Alan D. Miller held that The Highland Council had breached their duties to her as an employee. They had failed in their duty of reasonable care for her safety, and their duty to devise, maintain and enforce a safe system of work.
Despite periodic newspaper headlines about violence in schools, this type of case is still quite unusual and the complexity can be illustrated by the 17 days of evidence required before the case was concluded.