Everything you ever needed to know...;School Management;Books

19th February 1999 at 00:00
.. about the law. Jim McNair welcomes the first legislative guidefor Scottish headteachers.

GREENS SCOTTISH EDUCATION MANUAL. Looseleaf manual and four discs for PC, pound;140 plus VAT. Greens Professional Publishing, 21 Alva Street, Edinburgh EH2 4PS.

What does the law say?" When headteachers' meetings are about to divide into two camps, some wise owl is sure to pose thisquestion. Often a display of collective ignorance follows. But in future a laptop loaded with Greens Scottish Education Manual should enable more enlightened discussions.

In producing this first legislative guide for Scottish headteachers, a vast area of ground has been covered, but alas much remains to be done.

Books on the law are liable to grow into turgid tomes as all the nit-picked detail is laid out. The authors of this manual have avoided this by introducing key questions at the beginning of most sections: an approach which has brought a welcome user-friendliness to the publication.

Significant statutory requirements and common sense have been professionally interwoven to produce an extensive reservoir of sound information. Authoritative sources are stated confidently where they exist, and the woollier treatment of many other topics is not the fault of the authors; clear legislation does not always exist. There is, nevertheless, an unevenness of quantity and quality of documentation, which will hopefully be addressed as updates arrive.

Some issues are well covered. Child protection and bullying have been given ample attention. Quality information on pupil exclusion is included. If you want to know about playground supervision in primary schools, you can find out accurately what the regulations demand and the areas in which your own judgment has to be exercised.

Pertinent health and safety considerations are well explained and the intricacies of the teachers' contract are dissected. We are told about the fitting and use of seat belts in minibuses; about the right of access to information by a non-residential parent; and about the legal use of reasonable force to restrain pupils.

The section on religious education is thorough, and we know where we stand with regard to school uniform when we reach the phrase about lack of legal enforcement. There can be few walking encyclopedias who would not learn much from this publication.

Some good key questions have weak answers. What guidance is given to enable heads to complete the school profile? This turns out to be no more than the cursory official check-list from HM inspectors. What options are available to heads in providing lunchtime supervision? There are no nuggets of inspiration here. These were exceptions. For the most part clear and comprehensive answers are given.

Certain domains are not covered at all. There is nothing on the media and the need for headteachers to develop appropriate pro-active and reactive skills. What do you do when scandal about a pupil or member of staff is about to be flashed on television? There is no help here. Although there are more and more parents prepared to litigate these days, there is no discussion of the skills which must be developed to anticipate and side-step trouble from the parent who is determined to challenge the educational system in every way possible. With the election of the Scottish parliament only weeks away, there is no consideration of changes that will arise from this new layer of government.

On some subjects information is scattered throughout the book with no attempt to draw the threads together. Two examples come to mind: the extensive issue of race relations and ethnic minorities, which demand a great deal of headteacher attention in many parts of the country; and the disparity between English and Scottish law. While differences between the two legislative systems are pointed out in a good number of specific instances, no attempt has been made to discuss the broad differences between legal procedures north and south of the border.

The preface and forewords make it clear that the principal audience at which this work is aimed is the body of Scottish headteachers, but the book fails to follow this up consistently. Some sections include elements that help to focus on issues from a headteacher's perspective, such as the section on provision for very able pupils, but in others, such as the one on special educational needs, it is as if heads do not exist. Surely their role is vital in bringing parents of children with needs to see what can be done within finite resources? Again, we do not have a section that explores in any depth the position of the head on the one hand as the line manager of the authority, and on the other as the advocate to the powers-that-be of the wishes and aspirations of every segment of the school community.

There are certainly omissions, but a highly creditable first attempt has been made to gather in one portfolio many of the central tenets of Scottish education. I celebrate its arrival and commend the work to school leaders.

Jim McNair is former general secretary of the Headteachers Association of Scotland.

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