Advice receives frosty reception

15th January 2010 at 00:00
Moray education officer writes letter implying that teachers use weather as excuse to stay home

Teachers who do not try hard enough to get into work in adverse weather conditions have been warned by one council they risk not being paid.

Alistair Farquhar, a senior education official in Moray - one of the hardest-hit areas in the recent freeze - caused anger when he circulated a letter to headteachers instructing them to investigate the circumstances of any member of staff who claimed to be unable to get to work.

He told The TESS his letter was simply replicating advice to all other council staff - but Irene Matier, president of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, felt he was implying teachers were not professional enough to be trusted to work at home in bad weather conditions.

The letter from Mr Farquhar, who is head of educational resource services, points out that:

  • all employees have a contractual obligation to be available for work and must make every effort to comply with this;
  • the council is under no obligation to pay employees when they do not attend work;
  • the onus is on individuals to make a conscientious attempt to get to work - use public transport if running, and so on;
  • employees who "choose" not to make every effort, where other employees from their area have been able to get to work, will receive no pay for their absence (management should assess each case, and use discretion to assess the reasonableness).
    • He adds: "I require all headteachers to seek detailed information from each member of staff who indicates that heshe is unable to attend work and thereafter you, as headteacher, need to assess these `reasons' against the criteria within personnel guidance. Thereafter you, as headteacher, need to decide whether or not any member of staff's pay should be withheld."

      Drew Morrice, assistant secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said his concerns about the Moray letter were that: it left the decision about withholding pay to the headteacher, which would inevitably lead to inconsistencies; and it did not make clear that teachers should be able to report to their nearest educational establishment.

      He called on teachers' local negotiators to update such policies. He hoped this would allow teachers to report to their nearest school, rather than being tied to a particular place of work; thereafter, if they were required to do development work, to be able to do so at home.

      Mrs Matier argued that heads should have greater professional discretion to allow staff members to work from home. She criticised Glasgow City Council's edict that teachers at her former school, Caledonia Primary, had to attend when burst pipes flooded the school; only if it became too cold could they go to the nearest school with heating.

      A council spokeswoman said this was normal procedure after 25 schools and nurseries had to close.

      In England, John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, made a plea that schools should not be penalised for poor attendance when pupils could not get there.

      A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "Attendance and absence figures are calculated against the days that the school is actually open. Where a school is shut, the total number of days where attendance is expected is reduced accordingly. This can happen for a variety of reasons including poor weather, elections, in-service days and so on.

      "Within the `other authorised absence' category, there is the opportunity to record a pupil's absence as being due to `lack of transport' - including due to bad weather."

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