Ask Tom

2nd May 2014 at 01:00

Teacher, TES Connect blogger and behaviour expert Tom Bennett puts on his agony uncle hat and answers your education questions

I've been teaching for a while but in the past few months some older boys have started to mock my appearance and make stupid noises when I walk by. Their comments are making me feel ugly and embarrassed. I'm too ashamed to confront it.

A teacher, via TES Connect's behaviour forum

What horrible behaviour. Two things need to happen here. First, look disappointed or concerned - anything but hurt or sad or angry. And don't ignore it, because realising that you can be bullied without response will make them bolder. Second, inform a line manager and speak to the students individually, not as a group. Tear a few strips off them calmly and inform them that their comments could be construed as rude and offensive. They will, of course, deny things. That's fine. Tell them that it doesn't matter and that any repetition of the noises or comments will lead to sanctions. And when you do see them in the corridor, meet their eyes. You are not alone, unless you choose to be.

There is a virus going around school and we have been told that the leadership team will expect proof of illness if we call in sick - the implication being that we will use the virus as an excuse for a day off. As a result, the staffroom is like a doctor's surgery with people turning up not fit to do the job. Is this right? Can they demand "proof" for just a single day off?

A teacher, via email to

Well, they're not quite right. Employers in general shouldn't ask for a sick note (actually called a fit note these days) if the absence is less than seven days, although in schools five days seems to be a standard trigger point. So a school shouldn't ask for medical certification of illness (proof) before that time unless the employee is persistently ill, in which case an employer can ask for evidence of recurring illnesses. What the leadership team can ask for is a self-certification form, even after one day, for the employee to record formally what the issue was. I would say that the default should be trust in one's staff.

I recently started a relationship with a fellow teacher and we got "spotted" by someone in the senior leadership team who advised us to keep it quiet as it could compromise our jobs. If this becomes a more long-term thing, that is going to prove difficult. Could a relationship really endanger our jobs?

A teacher, via email to

Your personal lives are your own affairs, unless there are exceptional circumstances where it affects the working of the school. Having a relationship with someone isn't, the last time I checked, a matter of shame or pity, and whoever told you this should be invited to go back to a Jane Austen novel. As long as you conduct your working relationship with care and professionalism, it is no one else's business.

Tom teaches full-time at Raine's Foundation School in London.

Do you agree with his advice? To have your say or ask a question, visit tesconnect.comasktom or email

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