Can I have a lift, sir?

31st March 2000 at 01:00
Q Is it wise for teachers to convey pupils in their own cars for school visits or transport home in an emergency?

A Common sense is not a bad guide here. It is not unreasonable for teachers to convey pupils in their own vehicles, provided certain conditions are observed.

Obviously, insurance is the first concern. While normal cover would apply to casual lifts, it would be wise to ensure that taking pupils on school visits was covered. Some teacher unions have arrangements with specific insurance companies, which include this sort of cover as standard.

Parental consent, on the basis of information provided, is a prerequisite for prearranged journeys, as for all school trips. In addition, care should be taken with the number of pupils to be conveyed and their gender, in order to avoid a compromising situation.

Finally, it should go without saying that teachers should never be placed under an obligation to convey pupils in their own cars. Such a provision must be entirely voluntary.

Q Recently, a teacher held a pupil by the wrists to prevent him running away while being reprimanded. The boy's parents complained to the police, who came to the school to investigate. At the time I took statements from those involved. Should I have handed these to the police?

A Incidents of this kind raise a range of issues. The headteacher must, in the first place, decide whether the teacher acted reasonably or not. If unnecessary or unreasonable force was used, the teacher may be subject to disciplinary action, regardless of what the police may or may not decide.

The parents' decision to go to the police may have been an over-the-top reaction but, once they did so, the police had no choice but to investigate.

It is the duty of every citizen to assist the police in their enquiries and it would, therefore, have been perfectly proper to allow them to see the statements in question. The teacher and other parties involved should have been told about the situation and allowed to have copies of their own statements.

The police could not have used these statements as evidence - they are required to take statements directly for that purpose. Your investigation would, however, have assisted them in understanding what had taken place.

Q One of ourteachers accepted a post at another school and informed the headteacher on November 10 that he was leaving on December 31. He was advised that this would be in breach of his contract, but he said he would go anyway. Speaking to the other school was not helpful. What remedy do we have for the damage done to our pupils' education?

A One has to deplore such a cavalier attitude to quite clear contractual obligations, not only from the teacher concerned but also from the school which is willing to condone his action. In order to leave on December 31, he should, of course, have submitted his notice by October 31.

A breach of contract may be the subject of action in the civil court, but it is unlikely that the school would recover a sum sufficient to cover the costs of taking the action in the first place.

There is likely to be a problem in quantifying the actual damage which the school sustained. In all probability, an alternative teacher was found to cover the classes which the departing teacher would have taught and, even if the substitute was less competent and effective, it would be hard to express the difference in monetary terms.

The behaviour of the other school is particularly distasteful. Usually, it is possible to resolve such a tricky situation by negotiating a compromise, with the first school agreeing to waive the requirement of notice, perhaps in return for a delay of half a term in taking up the post.

One would hope that breaches of professional trust and courtesy of this sort will be addressed by the General Teaching Council, when it gets down to working out a code of professional conduct.

Q We have a parent who has been, as a result of violent conduct, forbidden to enter the school premises, but who is standing for election as a parent-governor. What can we do about this?

A One would like to hope that parents' good sense generally would solve this problem for you - but one can never be sure.

Although there is no way in which the democratic process can be subverted, there is nothing which obliges a headteacher or their staff to attend governing body meetings.

If the parent's previous behaviour leads them to feel threatened, they can stay away and make it clear to the chairman why they are doing so.

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