'Rebel' schoolgirl gets last chance

A "REBEL" schoolgirl banned from her class for 30 days after organising an anti-war protest was given a last chance by a High Court judge yesterday to complete her studies and sit crucial GCSE exams.

By Juliette Maxam

A "REBEL" schoolgirl banned from her class for 30 days after organising an anti-war protest was given a last chance by a High Court judge yesterday to complete her studies and sit crucial GCSE exams.

Mr Justice Collins rejected as "rubbish" claims that the ban on 15-year-old Elena Grice, a pupil at Helen Romanes School, Great Dunmow, was an interference with her freedom of speech and said she had behaved "appallingly" and was "her own worst enemy".

The anti-war protest took place outside the school on March 20 and about 500 people including parents and teachers took part.

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The judge heard evidence of Elena's "rude and aggressive" behaviour on the day and accusations that she had "burst into classrooms" containing younger pupils and threatened the health and safety of other students.

The ban was also influenced by complaints that the teenager from Rayne, near Braintree, whose mother is in Turkey, had in the past "bunked off" school and had a reputation for being "aggressive, rude and non-conformist".

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Earlier Carolyn Hamilton, for the school authorities, said she had refused to wear full uniform, disobeyed rules and confessed to "hating" school and having an interest in "shocking people".

Yesterday , Elena and her father Peter Grice, with backing from civil rights group Liberty, asked the High Court to overturn the exclusion order as "disproportionate and oppressive".

The board of governors at Helena Romanes School decided on Monday to uphold headteacher Stephen Smith's decision to exclude her from March 24 to May 20 - hitting her exam timetable.

The court heard the school had since allowed her back for some studying, while keeping her from mixing freely with other pupils.

The judge ordered that further changes should be made to improve her chances of obtaining good grades in maths, English language and literature, biology, chemistry, Spanish and drama - but said the exclusion order would remain in force and keep her from mixing freely outside lessons with other pupils.

He said: "She is a very silly girl but even silly girls are entitled to a proper opportunity to achieve what they can best achieve."

The judge warned Elena, who was not in court but in school and said to be motivated and ready to do her best, that she was on "a knife edge" and any further bad behaviour could result in full exclusion.

He said she would be allowed into all relevant classes on condition that she wears full school uniform. She must also write a written apology to a teacher said to be "greatly upset" after Elena called her a "Fascist cow".

She must also remain in school during the school day unless her father gave written permission for her to leave the premises after completing her classes for the day.

When not in lessons she must remain in the school library or other place as directed by the headteacher, and take lunch in accordance with his instructions.

She must also behave in a manner "in accordance with the school's behaviour policy and expectations".

After the hearing Mr Smith said he wished Elena well but reiterated the "very serious view" taken of her behaviour.

He said: "Whilst we wish her well in her examinations and her academic future, we take a very serious view of her behaviour on that day.

"She was abusive, verbally aggressive as well as threatening and she disrupted the school's disciplined environment. Such behaviour cannot and will not be tolerated.

"The student undermined the discipline of the school and threatened the safety of the students and staff."

Last night Elena's father, Peter, said: "She's been given the opportunity to attend all her classes. That was the thrust of what we were trying to achieve. We are quite pleased that that's happened.

"We are going to try to get back into some kind of normality now and are quite pleased that's happening.

"Elena's going to be concentrating on getting as much work in now before her exams start."

Mr Smith welcomed the judge's comments that the case was to do with Elena's "appalling" behaviour and the "spin" in the press and media that it was about freedom of expression was "rubbish".

Liberty lawyer Shami Chakrabarti said: "The most important thing was to get Elena back into her classes as soon as possible.

"We're delighted that has been achieved. We wish Elena every success with her upcoming exams and hope that her life can now return to normal."

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