Great expectations

8th January 1999 at 00:00
Do you know your professional duties as a teacher? Maureen Cooper gives a reminder of your rights and looks at what an employer can expect of you

When you are appointed as a teacher you accept certain legal and contractual duties and your employer also undertakes certain obligations towards you. It will help you to have a basic understanding of what you can expect from employers - and what they are entitled to expect from you.

From September this year, most schools will fall into one of three categories. In community schools, the local education authority is the contractual employer but all the duties and responsibilities of the employer will be carried out by the school governing body. In aided (Church) and foundation (formerly grant-maintained) schools, the governing body is the employer and gets advice from the LEA. Aided schools also get advice from representatives of the Church.

There will almost certainly be governors present at a job interview for a foundation or aided school. Most do not have an education background so it is important to make sure that your answers are jargon-free.

The governors are responsible for determining salary, though they have to follow strict rules set out in the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document. If you are a good honours degree graduate (2.2 or better) then you will automatically start on point 2 of the pay scale. Otherwise, unless you have particular skills or experience to offer, you will start at the bottom of the scale. Salary negotiation is a delicate business, but it is not sensible to accept a job offer without being absolutely clear about the level of salary.

When you are verbally offered the job and accept it, then the contractual bargain is struck. There is no need to panic if written confirmation of your appointment does not come through straight away. Legally the employer has up to eight weeks from the commencement of the job to issue the written contract. However, if you feel nervous about waiting for the paperwork, there is no reason why you should not write to the school after the interview confirming that you are pleased to accept the post.

You are in breach of contract if you go for another interview and accept that job instead.

Newly qualified teachers appointed from this September will have to complete an induction year to remain eligible to be employed in a state school. The intention is that each new teacher will be entitled to a programme of structured support, experience and further on-the-job training during the year. Assessment will take place at the end of three terms, or an equivalent period of part-time employment. The regulations are expected to be published in February or March.

The School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document sets out the professional duties of a teacher. If your school provides you with an individual job description then that sits alongside the professional duties set out in the document.

* Your duties include planning, preparing and teaching lessons, assessing and reporting on pupils, promoting general progress and well-being of pupils, giving guidance and advice to pupils and providing records and reports on personal and social needs of pupils. It is also a contractual obligation to maintain good order among pupils and safeguard their health and safety.

Teachers can also be required to cover for absent colleagues. In primary schools this may mean that the class of an absent colleague is divided among other teachers. In secondary schools there will be a daily cover rota which sets out who covers for absent teachers.

However, a teacher cannot be required to cover for a one that has been absent for three or more consecutive working days, or if it is known two or more days in advance that the teacher will be absent for more than three days. There are exceptions if a teacher is employed full time but on a timetable for less than 75 per cent of the teaching week or if reasonable means of employing a supply teacher have been exhausted without success.

* Full-time teachers work for 195 days in the year: on 190 days they may be required to teach pupils in addition to carrying out other duties, while five days are for in-service training. Full-time teachers work 1,265 "directed" hours in any year. Most of these will be teaching hours and the rest will be made up of other duties which the headteacher specifically directs the teacher to undertake, such as staff meetings and parents' evenings.

In addition to the "directed" hours, there is a legal requirement to work such hours as is needed to discharge your professional duties, including, in particular, marking pupils' work, writing pupils' reports and the preparation of lessons, teaching material and teaching programmes.

* Teachers cannot be required to undertake midday-break supervision and are entitled to a break of "reasonable" length between school sessions or between noon and 2pm.

* If you become sick, you are entitled to 25 full working days paid leave during the first year and an additional 50 days leave on half pay after four months' service. Follow your school's procedures for reporting sickness absence and try to ensure that lesson plans are provided for colleagues or a supply teacher.

* If you are unhappy in your job and you want to leave at Christmas, then contractually you need to give in your notice by October 31. The last day for giving notice to leave at Easter is the end of February, and if you want to leave at the end of the school year then you must hand in your notice by May 31. These notice periods can be waived if both the school and the teacher agree to do so.

Maureen Cooper is director of Education Personnel Management

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