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Keep parents from hell in check

Schools try to relate to parents on a basis of mutual respect. But what can schools do about parents who are not simply unreasonable but abusive and dangerous?

A parent does not become immune from the law just by becoming a parent, and a school is in breach of its duty of care to allow harassment, let alone violence.

Parents can be told to leave the premises once their permission to remain has been withdrawn. Any parent causing a disturbance on school premises is committing an offence. If there is any question of violence, it becomes a police matter and something the local authority, as an employer, should regularly be discussing with the local senior officer.

Case law is equally clear. A parent does have more rights than a delivery man. It is not possible simply to ban a parent willy-nilly; but once a parent has been given an opportunity to explain his or her conduct, then, if the school is not satisfied with the explanation or any promises made, it can ban the parent from the premises.

As regards abusive telephone calls to office staff, a course of conduct (which can consist of two occasions) that causes distress infringes the Prevention from Harassment Act. It is another police matter.

If the school chooses not to make a formal complaint, it still owes a duty of care. In those circumstances, it may be reasonable to refuse to take telephone calls from the parent and choose to communicate only in writing.

What a school cannot do is visit the sins of the fathers or mothers on the child. A child cannot be punished for the behaviour of a parent.

Respect is right, but it goes both ways and schools are not powerless if parents choose not to show any.

Richard Bird, Legal consultant to the Association for School and College Leaders.

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