Meet our reps - Josh Hepple

By Josh Hepple

Meet our reps – Josh Hepple

I heard about the School Exclusion Project last year during my Law studies and many of my friends were representatives on the project. I was impressed hearing about the autonomy given to the reps and the ability for them to pretty much take on a case themselves.

This is something I wanted to have a go at. I felt pretty confident around the law as I have studied and volunteered in law for five years, but my volunteering had all been behind the scenes and I really wanted to have a go at front-line work. This was especially important to me as I also have a severe impairment, cerebral palsy, which affects my movements and speech.

I attended a training day in October, held at City University and run by Eloise Le Santo and Sarah Hannett from Matrix Chambers. I loved learning about exclusion law. While case law and rules of public authorities very much come into play, the law surrounding exclusions has been helpfully set out in very clear guidelines published by the Department of Education. As well as needing to be extremely familiar with the guidance, reps also have to have basic knowledge of discrimination, special needs and reasonable adjustments.

My personal circumstances and academic interests have led me to have a very sound understanding of the Equality Act and disability so I thought that I would have cases where my legal knowledge would be useful.

I have been very grateful to have had two cases so far. Funnily enough, neither of them really revolved around disability and are testing me on brand new areas.

However, I can also say that after studying very dry academic law for many years, I had a warped view of what a lawyer does, thinking it was entirely forming very sophisticated legal arguments and knowing the law well. However, when I do have to form complicated arguments, it’s fantastic to be able to have very experienced barristers from Matrix give me feedback on my work. This is invaluable.

Yes, this is important, but I have found that client handling and ascertaining what actually happened a much more crucial part of a good representative. Nowhere is this taught on the usual academic law courses and has been a fantastically steep learning curve for me.

A lecturer once said to me, “Knowing your facts is much more crucial than knowing your law.” This made little sense in a seminar a week before a law exam, but I can now say that she is right.

There is a story behind every case and it is a fascinating privilege to get to know how interesting the cases are. While it is our job to focus on complex law and arguments to help the student be reinstated, it is very hard not to see an extremely sad set of facts underlying the case.

Exclusions should always be a last resort. Of course, there will be occasions when they are unavoidable, but I firmly believe that schools should always seek to use inclusive policies. When something goes wrong, they should always be aiming to first address that child’s needs, rather than imposing a punishment with the finality of a permanent exclusion which will inevitably remain on their record and impact their future educational and career prospects.
This article was prepared by the author in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of, nor are condoned by, the School Exclusion Project, Matrix Chambers, 11KBW, City University or our partners.

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