17th November 1995 at 00:00
Q. When a teacher is absent on compassionate grounds, are colleagues required to cover for him for as long as it takes?

A. Most schools will have a policy for granting compassionate leave, but often leave it to the head's discretion to allow a longer period than the rules stipulate in particular cases.

The arrangements for cover are no different from those which normally operate, namely that teachers are not required to cover after the teacher who is absent or unavailable has been so for three or more consecutive days. If the fact of the absence, which was going to last for three or more days, was known to the school at least two working days before it commenced, they would not be required to cover at all.

Q. My LEA advises me, as a newly appointed head, not to serve as a member of the committees of the governing body, but simply to attend as a professional adviser. Do you agree?

A. There are arguments both ways on this, but my preference has always been to recommend heads to participate as full members.

I assume from your question that you have accepted duties as a governor and, if you are a member of the full body, there is little logic in taking a stand-off position on the committees. If matters affecting you personally were to be discussed, you would have to withdraw in any case.

Apart from that, the fact that you are a member means that you cannot be excluded from the meetings in any other circumstances, and this may be valuable. On the other hand, even though you are a full member, you are not obliged to vote on every occasion and you might choose to adopt a professional position and abstain on matters of political controversy, where you did not wish to compromise your position with either faction.

Q. Is it discriminatory to ban the wearing of Muslim head-dresses?

A. It probably is, but each case needs to be tested on its merits. Some girls' schools maintain the position that girls cover themselves in the streets because their religion requires them to do so, but insist that they be removed in school on the grounds that it is largely a female environment. If the parents accept this, there is no difficulty. Elsewhere, a school which attempted to ban head-dresses, when the argument of religious faith was advanced in their defence, would almost certainly be held to be acting in a discriminatory manner.

Q. The union that represents one of my teachers has tried to negotiate with me as head a late start to her day, on the grounds that she has problems with her child-minding arrangements. If I agreed, she would miss our daily briefing and possibly part of assembly. Am I right to refuse?

A. Yes. Most heads in this situation would do their best to find some way of helping, but there are limits. If you agreed to this, on more than a very short-term basis, you would be creating a number of problems for yourself and your school.

First of all, you would be making an implicit statement that the daily briefing and school assembly were less important aspects of the daily work of the school than actual lessons. Second, you would be setting a precedent for other teachers who might have better or worse arguments for unpunctuality. Although heads should always adopt a reasonable and conciliatory approach, the bottom line is that every teacher has a contract to do the job they are paid to do and a duty to arrange private lives and family arrangements in such a way that their contract can be fulfilled.

Questions should be sent to Helpline, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782 3200.

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