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Comment - Leaders lack legal back-up

Many in the teaching profession believe that headship is no longer the attractive proposition it once was, and if increased workload does not put off potential candidates, then a perceived lack of support from the people paid to provide it could.

The National Association of Head Teachers Cymru says there has been a surge of staff disputes in schools recently, and leaders have found themselves without the legal advice and support from local authorities to which they should be entitled.

No one takes a job in management - whether in a school or otherwise - to be liked, and not everyone will be enamoured with decisions made at the top. But when disputes with staff or parents occur - rightly or wrongly - it can be mentally exhausting for all parties, and that is when local authorities' HR departments should come into their own, helping heads reach swift and amicable resolutions. Staff disputes are bad for staffroom morale, and less than harmonious school relations can only affect the standard of education given to pupils in the long run.

Such was the strength of feeling against the HR department in Bridgend that a vote of no confidence has been passed by the local NAHT Cymru branch. But why was it allowed to get that far?

Gareth Jones, from the ASCL Cymru heads' union, says increasing "corporatisation" means that HR employees do not have the necessary knowledge of education law. That is worrying.

Heads have a lot to juggle in their working lives. Health and safety legislation is a minefield and the introduction of the 14-19 learning pathways - possibly a legal requirement by next September under proposed Wales-only legislation - is an added pressure this year. Many heads feel that teachers have been protected by the 2003 workload agreement, but that their jobs have become even more demanding as a consequence. If ever there was a time for heads to be supported, it is now.

The only hope is that Jane Hutt, education minister, will investigate heads' complaints and intervene in some way. It does seem that Neath and Port Talbot are getting their act together, but only after scrutiny by Estyn, the Welsh inspectorate.

It is time for heads to be given support in recognition of the ever greater responsibility of their roles in an increasingly litigious age.

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