Agenda

7th July 1995 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions. Can a teacher be compelled to teach sex education if he or she has strong objections to doing so? It is a primary school.

The only subject a teacher may not, by law, be compelled to teach is religious education. That particular conscience clause has been in the law for a long time. There is no provision for teachers to be excused any other part of the curriculum, and you are likely to have in your contract a general clause which says that your teaching obligations shall be under the general direction of the head.

Most heads will, I am sure, deal sympathetically with any special difficulties, particularly those based on religious or cultural objections, if the school's organisation allows.

It isn't easy in a primary school, however, when one teacher normally teaches most subjects with one class and when the national curriculum for science requires basic factual information to be given about sex. It is up to the governors whether further sex education, beyond what is laid down in science, is offered.

Even if they had decided that the school should not offer any additional instruction, however, it would still be difficult to exclude sexual matters from the curriculum, since explanations and answers to children's questions are likely to arise in any lesson.

I remember you said that a quorum of two-thirds was needed to delegate functions to a committee. In this grant-maintained school we recently reconstituted our finance committee, and I have just counted up that there were only eight governors present. Was this legal?

The two-thirds rule when setting up committees with delegated powers only applies to local education authority maintained schools. One-third is sufficient in a GM-school.

I am the only teacher governor in this small school. Recently we had an item on the agenda about a reorganisation of teaching duties to which the staff had objections. I felt that as their representative I had to vote against this, though I was myself convinced by the arguments put forward for the change. Mine was the only dissenting vote. Into the bargain, I had a hard time afterwards from the head who said I had no right to vote against a policy she was advocating.

You are a governor with the same status as the others and have a right to take an independent view. However, you seem to have misunderstood your representative role.

You are certainly a representative, and have a duty to listen to the staff, report their views to governors (whether or not the head likes it) and report back to them. But you are not a delegate, and are free to vote according to your own conscience, explaining to your colleagues the arguments which convinced you.

Questions should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782 3200

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