NEARLY half of all primary school expulsions are overturned on appeal despite overwhelming evidence of gross misbehaviour, it has emerged.

One in three secondary students who ask to have their expulsion reconsidered have also been successful, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

Teachers and principals have warned that procedures for removing students who are repeatedly violent or even break the law are relatively simple to circumvent.

In primary schools, a total of 44 expulsions were reported to the Department of Education during the past five years.

Of that number, 14 successfully appealed the decision and were reinstated. The school was found to have been correct in only 17 cases.

In another 13 instances, the case was either withdrawn or resolved on discussion with school management.

Among secondary schools, 351 cases of students having been expelled were recorded by the Department of Education since 2005. Of that number, 68 students had the decision overturned while the school's ruling was upheld in 203 cases. The remaining 80 cases were either withdrawn or resolved and it is unclear what the outcome was.

The Department of Education said not every expulsion was reported to it, only cases that were appealed.

In practice, that means most instances do eventually end up with the department, as parents always seek to have the ruling against their child overturned.

Expulsion is considered the last resort of school principals and used mainly for students who repeatedly and seriously breach discipline.

Teachers said the most common reasons for expulsion were assaults on teachers and other students, use of drugs and inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Other students had been found in possession of weapons, pornography or other illegal material while on school property, they said.

In one notorious incident, a 14-year-old who threatened a teacher with a hammer, stabbed a fellow pupil with a pen and was found with knives, had his appeal upheld.

"Very few of these decisions should ever be overturned," said one school principal. "There are no schools out there that will arbitrarily expel somebody without a very strong case. It undermines the teachers and the school management and sends out a message to other students that serious misbehaviour will not be punished."

The Department of Education said discipline was the responsibility of individual schools and their boards of management.

All expulsions can be appealed, either to the secretary general of the department or to the Vocational Educational Committee.