14th April 2000 at 01:00
ARE WE required to have an equal opportunities policy for our school?

We have done a great deal of talking about the subject but we always seem to get stalled.

The matter was mentioned by inspectors and several staff refer to it in worried terms from time to time.

In my day job, I am a personnel officer and , as such, I don't see how a school can function without having something in writing to guide decisions and promote good practice.

Can you give me some arguments to use?

I DON'T think you'll find any specific requirement in legislation to have an equal opportunities policy in the way that policies are required on behaviour, charging for school activities and sex education.

I'm sure this is because there is legislation on equal opportunities covering all institutions.

In any case, I cannot see how a school can operate safely without a policy. Local authorities have equal opportunities policies and schools have taken on more of the functions that authorities used to have.

Voluntary-aided and foundation schools are indeed employers, and all schools make appointments and have all the functions of an employer.

It isn't just about personnel issues, but about the potential for discrimination of all kinds in the learning opportunities and discipline of large numbers of children.

The curriculum itself must also take account of equal opportunities principles, since even if we don't happen to have an ethnic mix, we still have to prepare pupils for a multi-cultural society, not to mention issues of gender and disability.

In short, all organistions are vulnerable to challenge at any time.

Schools are in particular danger in that so many people make decisions that could bring accusations of discrimination.

It is vital that all staff work to common guidelines, both to raise awareness and make breaches less likely, and as a defence of a sort if such accusations are ever brought against the school. It would look bad if there were not even a policy in place and we should not take this risk.

Like you, I consider an equal opportunities policy to be a basic requirement for any school, and I hope you can convince your colleagues and, if necessary, your head that delay is dangerous.

You will perhaps have seen in The TES "Feedback" feature on the governors' pages a number of letters arising from my reply on job-shares.

Some of these have strongly underlined the point made - namely that, although the decisions on whether to allow job-shares are for governors, all governing bodies should be aware of the risk they run of action under equal opportunities legislation when they take them.

Do remember when you tackle the establishment of such a policy that it must cover every aspect of personnel management: including appointments, pay, promotions and staff management generally; all aspects of teaching and managing pupils; school buildings and facilities; out-of-school activities; and the curriculum itself.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be e-mailed to joansallis@tes1.demon. or sent to Agenda, care of the TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East

Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0207 782 32023205

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