First Step - Don't be court out

17th April 2009 at 01:00
A greater understanding of your legal rights and responsibilities will help not just how you work, but give you the confidence to do your job without fear of litigation

Learning about the law, which takes in everything from the legal requirements about collective worship to the policy to deal with suspected child abuse, might seem a daunting task. But putting the effort in now will help overcome tricky situations in the future.

Start with a textbook with a good introduction, says John Hunter-Jones, a lecturer at the school of education at the University of Manchester. "A general introduction to law can provide a sufficient foundation for areas such as employment law, negligence and health and safety. Many teachers will be affected by issues surrounding their work-life balance and will benefit from an understanding of the law on flexible working," he says.

The Training and Development Agency's (TDA) Working Within the Law and Frameworks induction guidance outlines areas that new teachers must learn about.

Although some schools provide help, the TDA says NQTs should take the initiative and find out about workplace policies and practices, as well as children's rights. Induction tutors, colleagues, teaching unions, law textbooks and teaching websites are all useful sources of information. The Bristol Guide, published by the University of Bristol, provides an overview.

New teachers are expected to familiarise themselves with the 2002 Education Act, the 2004 Children Act, the 2005 Children's Workforce Strategy and the Every Child Matters agenda.

On the employment front, the 2008 School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document and the 2003 National Agreement on Raising Standards and Tackling Workload, covering teachers' rights and responsibilities, are important.

According to Mr Hunter-Jones, finding out as much as you can about how the relevant policies and legislation affect you and your work should make you feel more confident. School trips can cause concern. "The teachers who were reluctant to take the pupils out on trips tended to be those who were unsure of the law on it.

"Those teachers who were more knowledgeable and confident about the legal requirements were more likely to take the children on trips, as they felt there would be no surprises. Ignorance of the law can result in unfounded fear," he says.

Many new teachers will see child protection as a key area to get to grips with, following neglect cases - such as that of Baby P last year. The General Teaching Council for England's code of practice points out that teachers could be found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct if they fail to take reasonable steps to ensure pupils' safety or co-operate with relevant agencies.

Although it is not teachers' responsibility to investigate suspected abuse, they do have a duty to report safeguarding issues.

So NQTs need to know how to identify potential abuse or neglect, and follow safeguarding procedures, as well as their school's policy and guidance.

It is mainly common sense, but teachers have a duty of care to pupils to do all that is reasonable to safeguard and promote their welfare.

Next week: Responding to feedback

What you should be thinking about this week

- Find out about your school's policies as well as national policies and legislation.

- Learn about generic law to broaden your knowledge.

- Draw on the expertise of colleagues, such as those with responsibility for safeguarding children and young people.

- Use www.teachernet.gov.uk and www.everychildmatters.gov.uk for guidance.

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