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Helpline;School management

Q

In our school, we regularly use girls to remove the dining tables to store after the midday break. This saves us a great deal of time and enables us to use the space quickly for other activities. Are we running any risks, for example under health and safety legislation, by allowing this?

A

Schools have always used pupil "volunteer" labour in all sorts of ways and if it encourages a responsible participative approach to school life, it is usually a good thing.

It raises no issues of health and safety law, because this only applies to employees and you do not pay pupils to do this. What it does raise is the question of reasonableness. A school owes a duty of care to all pupils, which, in practical terms may be interpreted as providing a degree of care comparable, allowing for the numbers involved, to the care that would be exercised by a reasonable parent. Thus, if it would be deemed reasonable in a parent to tell children of a certain age to shift a table, then it might be equally reasonable of a teacher to ask a pupil to perform a similar operation in school.

Only a High Court judge is able to decide whether what is happening in your school, with your pupils and your tables, is reasonable or not. That would only occur if a parent decided to take an action for damages as a result of an accident or injury. Assuming that the tables are lightweight, that the movement of them is properly supervised and that reasonable care is taken to avoid accidents, it seems unlikely that you are taking an unnecessary risk.

Q

A girl has sought advice from me, as her year head, telling me that she has hadsex with a boy in her class. Both are under age. What should I do and should I tellher parents?

A

It may be easier to tell you first what you should not do. It is not your responsibility to give this girl advice on her sex life, nor do you have a duty to report the matter to the police or the girl's parents, especially if she has come to you in confidence, which you would be reluctant to break.

If there was any suggestion that she had not consented to sex, you should, of course, report the case to the Child Protection Agency. You should strongly advise her to tell her parents but, if she is unwilling to do that, you could suggest that she talks to her doctor or to a local clinic, the address of which you could give her. Finally, you need to bear in mind that she may not have told you the truth anyway.

Archimedes regrets he cannot enter into correspondence with readers.

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