Helpline

28th June 1996 at 01:00
A parent recently arrived at our school, uttered abuse and threatened a teacher with a baseball bat. What would have been our best response?

There is no "best" response, simply the best that any individual can do when faced with a potentially dangerous situation.

Obviously, this parent was behaving illegally and it would have been appropriate to summon the police to remove him - I assume it was a him - and perhaps to charge him. By the time the police arrive, however, the incident itself will be long over, although that does not mean that they cannot take action.

Equally, the school, or the local education authority, can respond after the event by notifying the person that his conduct is unacceptable and that he may not enter the school in future other than by appointment.

Meanwhile, only the person on the spot can judge whether this is a situation where quiet and persuasive talking may calm the intruder down and induce him either to leave or to sit down and explain what is troubling him, or whether it is prudent to take immediate evasive action and seek help from whatever source is immediately available.

One thing is clear: an aggressive response is the tactic least likely to succeed.

In view of the reported increase of incidents of this kind, there is a clear need to ensure that all teachers and other school staff receive, as a matter of course, appropriate training in ways of responding to situations like this.

Is it possible for parents to withdraw their children in Years 5 and 6 from sex education lessons concerning puberty?

In a maintained primary school, the governing body has the discretion to decide whether sex education should form part of the curriculum. If it does, the governors have a duty to keep an up-to-date statement of its policy, which must be available to any parent who asks to see it. A summary should appear in the school prospectus.

Concerned parents, therefore, should be able to find out what is provided and when. Under the Education Act 1993, they have the right to withdraw their children from all sex education, or from any part of it. Parents should discuss their concerns with the school and make the arrangements they wish.

What they cannot do is to withdraw their children from lessons in science, which form part of the national curriculum, even where such lessons deal with human reproduction. At key stage 2, part of the curriculum under the heading of "Humans as organisms", covers the main stages of the human life cycle.

One would hope that parents would consider carefully before deciding to withdraw their children from lessons about puberty.

Unless they are confident that they are able to prepare them themselves for the physical and emotional changes which lie ahead of them, it may well be better for them to learn in the classroom than through hearsay in the playground.

Can a teacher take out a grievance procedure against a student on teaching practice?

I think not. The procedure exists to deal with grievances between employees and employers or between employees. Students are not employees and not, therefore, within its scope.

If there is a serious problem, the best course would be to take the matter up with his or her supervisor, directly or through the headteacher.

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

e-mail: letters@tes1.demon.co.uk

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