Primary fails in High Court bid to overturn ruling on ADHD exclusion

Primary fails in High Court bid to overturn ruling on ADHD exclusion
News | Published in The TES on 31 July, 2009

Judge upholds tribunal decision that school made no ‘reasonable adjustment’ for violent pupil with disability

A Cambridgeshire primary school, ordered to apologise for excluding a disabled pupil who assaulted a teacher, has failed in a High Court bid to overturn the ruling.

The governors of the school had mounted a costly legal campaign to overturn a tribunal ruling that they had discriminated against the boy, who suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The special educational needs and disability tribunal said the school had breached the Disability Discrimination Act and ordered an apology to be made to the boy’s parents.

Last year, it ruled that the school had “failed to make a reasonable adjustment”. It had not, for example, sought specialist advice or support from relevant services before the incident.

This week, the school governors took the case to the High Court in London to appeal against the decision. With the backing of Cambridgeshire County Council, they claimed the school had done all it could to accommodate the boy’s needs. His “tendency to physical abuse of other persons” did not amount to a disability, they argued.

The boy, referred to in court as “T”, was excluded from the school after he physically assaulted a member of staff.

But Mr Justice Lloyd Jones upheld the tribunal’s decision. He told the High Court: “I consider there was here a failure to make a reasonable adjustment in respect of a protected disability.” He said ADHD symptoms can include temper tantrums, mood swings, learning problems and aggression.

The boys’ parents were backed in court by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the National Autistic Society, which said the school’s arguments were “wrong in law and in principle”.

The society insisted that the boy’s disruptive behaviour was a symptom of his condition. Upholding the school’s appeal, it said, would have “profound and widespread detrimental implications for children and adults” who have a disability that involves a tendency to violence.

Mr Justice Lloyd Jones accepted that T was excluded for having assaulted a teacher. But he concluded: “I consider that the tribunal was correct in its conclusion that there had been unlawful discrimination, arising from the failure to take reasonable steps to ensure that T was not placed at a substantial disadvantage, by comparison with pupils who are not disabled.”

Andrea Bilbow, of attention-deficit charity ADDISS, says mishandling of the condition is common. “If a child with ADHD assaults a teacher, you always have to ask what it was the teacher did that pushed the child over the edge,” she said.

“If you know a child can fly off the handle, you have to plan for it, manage it, and anticipate that something will happen. Children don’t do this for no reason. “

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