Q Do you think that a local education authority is failing in its duty of care to its employees if a headteacher requires teachers to work alone with groups of children who are known to be potentially violent, or who are likely to make unfounded allegations of assault? Do incidents have to occur before the legal situation is clarified?
A Many teachers accept a degree of risk every day in the work they do with seriously disturbed children. They accept this as a part of the job, although they expect their employer to adopt reasonable measures to protect them, and to compensate them in the event of injury.
By reasonable measures, I mean safety precautions appropriate to the particular situation: an alarm, someone else within call, other adults present, and so on. It is hard to be specific because every situation carries its own risks and requires its own arrangements. That is why it is difficult to answer your second question about the law being clarified.
Certainly, an employer has a duty of care to an employee in providing reasonable protection from known or perceived dangers inherent in the nature of the work and, if an injured employee could demonstrate that the employer had been negligent in that respect, damages might be awarded.
If an employee feels that he or she is being asked to work in situations where the degree of risk is unreasonable, the issue can be raised both informally and formally through a number of channels, including health and safety representatives, grievance procedures and trade union representation. The duty to avoid unnecessary risk is the responsibility of the employee as well as the employer.
Q We have a son who is bright and well-behaved, but suffers from school phobia. The LEA has only offered home tuition or a special unit for children with learning or behavioural problems. Neither is appropriate. What can we do?
A Although this column deals mainly with issues of school management, your question raises issues of interest.
Local authorities have limited resources to deal with pupils who, for whatever reason, cannot be accommodated in mainstream schools and I am not surprised by the poor response to your son's needs.
I assume that through your own doctor, or the LEA, you have explored the possibility of specialist psychological advice to help your son overcome his phobia, which is clearly the best approach.
It may be that the LEA could be prompted to consider again finding appropriate help for him and, to help you identify possible options, you could contact the Advisory Centre for Education, tel: O171-354 8321.