Q. On a school ski trip, we found that the main entrances to the pension where we were lodged were kept locked, with the only access and exit being by way of steep stairs and the cellars. I was subsequently told that, as party leader, I could have been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive had there been an accident. What should I have done?
A. This is an astonishing story which demonstrates that there are still some very dubious operators in the field of school travel. It is vital to ensure that you deal with an operator with a proven record of quality, an ABTA member with experience of school parties.
The ultimate responsibility, however, was undoubtedly yours. First, you should have required details of the nature of the accommodation in advance and satisfied yourself, as far as you reasonably could, that it was appropriate for your party.
If, having done that, you had discovered on arrival that the conditions were other than promised, you should have presented the tour operator with an immediate ultimatum: either to provide what had been contracted for or to take the party home at once.
If the problem was essentially with the proprietor of the pension, such a threat might well have been effective and, if not, a visit to the local authority in the area might well have done the trick.
Your absolute refusal to allow your party to stay in a potentially dangerous situation should have been a powerful bargaining card.
The warning you were given after the event was a proper reminder that you, as party leader, are responsible for the safety and welfare of the pupils placed in your charge and, if you see a situation where your ability to fulfil that responsibility is threatened, it is your duty to act.
Q. If a school advertises A-level courses in its prospectus, which it subsequently cannot offer because insufficient numbers enrol, is it in breach of contract to those students who do enrol for those courses?
A. No. In the first place, no contract exists and therefore none is broken. The prospectus is a statement of the courses which the school is able to offer, but it clearly cannot run some of those if there are not enough students. Whether or not a warning about this is published in the prospectus, the school must reserve the right to make the most effective use of its resources.
Most schools manage to conduct surveys of students in Year 11 in order to gain an approximate idea of the likely demand well in advance. While the vicissitudes of GCSE results may make some changes inevitable, good management should ensure a reasonable match of supply to demand.
Q. I am a 36-year-old primary teacher who has been out of a job for nearly three years. Should I offer to take a salary at a lower level?
A. I would suggest that you should confide in a headteacher or local authority adviser whom you trust and ask him or her to review your application, in order to be sure that you are projecting yourself effectively. You would have to consider also whether those whose names you are giving as confidential referees are actually providing the kind of support you need to get interviews.
It may be that your fears are justified and that it is the salary level which is the difficulty. At present, there is little one can do about that: the rates of pay are laid down in the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document, which has statutory force in all state schools. The only alternative might be in the private sector, where employers are not necessarily bound to adhere to those scales.
Q. At the end of last term, I took retirement on the grounds of ill-health. I am already feeling much better and would like to try a little part-time teaching. Will this affect my pension?
A. It might well do so. If you went back to work in a pensionable post, your pension would be either suspended or reduced, depending on how much you were earning. When you eventually retired again, the additional service would be taken into account in recalculating your final pension.
In the case of part-time work, such as you are contemplating, much depends on the amount of time you propose to work. If you do six months or more at half-time or more, your pension will cease after six months. If you work for less than half-time, your pension will not be suspended, but it may be reduced.
Remember, too, that, as you have been medically certified as unfit to work as a teacher, your employer has to be satisfied that you are fit to come back.
Whatever you decide, you should obtain the guidance of the Teachers' Pension Agency, whose Leaflet 192 provides full information on this aspect of the system.
Q. A teacher has lodged a formal complaint against the deputy head at this school on the grounds that he brought a visitor into the classroom without permission. Is it justified?
A. I doubt it, although there are two aspects to this question.
I believe that a head, or any senior member of staff, has not only a right but also a duty to enter classrooms from time to time for any legitimate purpose.Showing a visitor around the school constitutes a legitimate purpose.
On the other hand, I believe that it is a normal courtesy for staff to be told who is coming and why. This is not always possible and an apology for the unexpected intrusion is in order.
Either this teacher has personal problems or there is a serious breakdown in relationships in the school for such a trivial matter to reach this level of escalation.
Questions should be sent to Helpline, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782 3200. e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org. co.uk