12th February 2010 at 00:00
Can I leave the school building to have a cigarette during my 15-minute break

Teachers are meant to set a good example to pupils, so it is unlikely that any headteacher will approve of employees leaving school during a break specifically to smoke. Indeed, it is at the head's discretion whether staff can leave the premises at all during a morning or afternoon break.

The only statutory right to a break is covered by the 1998 working time regulations. These stipulate that an employee who has worked continuously for more than six hours is entitled to a single break of no less than 20 minutes.

Fortunately, many employers have more generous arrangements, which are normally outlined in the employee's terms and conditions of employment. For example, the school teachers' pay and conditions document states that a teacher in the state sector is entitled to a break of "reasonable length" either between school sessions or between the hours of 12 and 2pm. This midday break does not form part of the teacher's "directed time" (during which the head can direct a teacher on what to do).

The teacher can decide whether to take the time on or off the school premises. However, any additional morning or afternoon breaks form part of the teacher's directed time and the head can direct when and where they should be taken.

For state school support staff, and all staff in the independent sector, any entitlement to breaks (other than that established by the working time regulations) should be outlined in their terms and conditions of employment. Again, it will be up to the head to decide whether teachers can take any additional breaks on or off the premises.

Even if staff are allowed to take their breaks off the school premises they should be wary about being seen smoking in public during the school day. Schools have a duty of care for their pupils' health and safety. Teachers seen smoking off the premises by pupils or parents during school hours could even be deemed to be in breach of this duty of care and may as a consequence face disciplinary action.

Additionally, it is conceivable that teachers in the maintained sector could be deemed to be in breach of the General Teaching Council code of professional conduct and practice for registered teachers. The code establishes eight principles, the first of which states that teachers must put the well-being, development and progress of children and young people first.

Clearly, there is a growing drive to discourage children from smoking. As this continues, schools will expect teachers to set a good example. In short, the days of nipping out during the break for a quick smoke are numbered.

Ken McAdam is a member adviser with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

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