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Helpline;Briefing;School Management

Q This is a popular school and our numbers are rising. The local authority is allowing more pupils to come to us, but we do not have the facilities to offer the full curriculum for so many. Should we refuse to take them?

A Assuming that the numbers fall within the authority's planned admission limit for your school, I am afraid that you cannot refuse to take them. The authority is responsible for admissions, not the school.

Your governing body should be seeking urgent talks with the local authority about the facilities and, if you are able to show that it really is impossible to guarantee the national curriculum for all pupils, you have an excellent case for more money.

Q Can you advise me how to choose referees to support an application for headship?

A I suspect that many people do not pay sufficient attention to this important aspect of job applications. Appointing bodies are likely to rely quite heavily on references, particularly when short-listing.

It is useful to discuss the matter with your potential referee and to do what you can to ensure he or she includes points that are important to you. It is worthwhile doing this for each application separately: jobs vary and a reference that is obviously standard loses much of its impact.

The choice of referees is bound to be limited. Unless there are compelling reasons otherwise, the first one should be your head. If not, the first question the appointing body asks will be, "Why not?" If there is a good reason - illness, say - mention it in your letter of application.

The second referee is harder to choose. What is needed is support from a different perspective. Simply using a deputy head, who will largely repeat what your head has written, will not add much to your case.

Equally, while your vicar or best friend at the golf club might say what a pleasant person you are, they won't add much about your professional aptitude.

A local authority officer or adviser who is familiar with your work is one possibility. Another is a member of the school governing body. After all, your application is going to governors and a lay view of your capabilities could prove influential.

Q A pupil has injured her eyes, fortunately not permanently, following an incident involving acid in our school's science lab. It is our policy to use goggles, but she was not wearing them. Her parents are threatening to sue for negligence. Surely it was the pupil's negligence,not ours?

A I'm afraid that is unlikely. Whether this injury was the result of an accident or of misbehaviour by pupils, the school remains responsible for providing proper supervision, especially where there is risk involved.

This pupil may have flagrantly disobeyed instructions by failing to wear protective goggles, but the teacher had a duty to check that all pupils were actually doing so.

Only if the school can show she was wearing the goggles, and removed them for an instant when the teacher's back was turned, might a court hold that the school took reasonable steps to maintain pupils' safety. Otherwise, the school will have to accept liability.

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