allowance to look after sick children. What do I do if they are ill for longer? Do I need to apply for the leave? And must it be unpaid?
A: As a parent, you have a few extra employment rights. Some of these also apply to teachers if they care for dependants such as elderly parents.
Since 2003, parents of children under six or disabled children under 18 can apply to work flexibly, and their employers must take such a request seriously. This could cover marking if, say, the school wanted you to do marking on-site but you wanted to take it home. The right to work from home is one request you can make. The school does not have to agree, but should give reasons for a refusal. You have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off to deal with certain emergencies involving a dependant and to make any necessary longer-term arrangements.
The legislation does not specify what is "reasonable" since this will vary according to circumstances, but the Department for Trade and Industry's website states that one or two days should be enough to deal with most problems. If a child falls ill with chickenpox, the leave should be enough to help the employee cope with the crisis - to deal with the immediate care of the child, visit the doctor and make longer-term care arrangements.
You are not entitled to take, say, two weeks' leave to look after a sick child, so any extended leave would have to be at your head's discretion. In an emergency, even if additional days are not necessarily "unreasonable", they may not be paid by your employer. In the event of a dispute, it might require an employment tribunal to determine what is reasonable.