Avoiding the issues

18th May 2001 at 01:00
EMPLOYMENT IN SCHOOLS: a legal guide. By Oliver Hyams, Jordans, pound;35.

The tests of a useful law book are whether it gives its audience what it needs, whether revision and updating are regular, and whether the price is affordable.

This book claims to be essential reading for "hard-pressed headteachers, governors and administrators confronted with a personnel problem". It purports to address "all the legal and practical issues rising from the employment of school staff". It does not.

Oliver Hyams sees the issues from a barrister's viewpoint and seems unaware of the practical challenges facing heads and governors. For example, I looked in vain for an explanation of performance management. While there are useful sections on staff discipline, they do not contain legal advice on allegations made by pupils about staff misconduct - an issue at the heart of the debate on teachers' conditions of employment. Sadly, Hyams also thinks employees' health and safety is outside his scope.

Teacher capability is included, but is treated cursorily. There is now substantial DfEE guidance on capability and detailed procedures. Importantly, these procedures arose from an all-union agreement on the fairest way forward; it woul have been interesting to read the author's analysis of their implications.

Hyams touches on the thorny issue of teachers' incapability through ill-health, but seems unaware of the joint DfEE and Department of Health guidance on the subject. Two "fitness to teach" booklets encapsulate the hoops through which school managers have to jump, and it is an area that could have benefited from fuller legal consideration.

The strength of Hyams's book lies in its account of employment law and its effect on schools - in terms of recruitment and appointment, discipline and dismissal, rights and duties, discrimination, and redundancy. Illustrative cases are interestingly teased out, but his choice of case is sometimes puzzling; in his section on equal pay he makes use of business cases rather than school-based ones.

The index - a sure guide to the competence of a law book - is comprehensive and clear. The second test - regularity of revision - cannot be judged until next year, but at pound;35 for only 189 pages of text, success in the third test hangs in the balance.

Chris Lowe

The reviewer is legal consultant to the Secondary Heads Association and former head of Prince William school, Northamptonshire.

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