31st May 1996 at 01:00
I hope to qualify and take up a teaching post in September. Should I join the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme, which I hear is to be privatised, or establish a private pension plan?

It is not this column's task to provide independent financial advice and you should certainly take advice from a qualified adviser and consult whichever of the teachers' unions you decide to join.

I can, however, offer some comments on the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme, which may be helpful. While it is true that the Teachers' Pensions Agency, which administers the scheme, is to be privatised, it is the administration which is being privatised, rather than the funding of it, which remains guaranteed by the government. Pledges have been given by ministers that the essential features of the scheme itself will not be affected.

The single most important feature of the scheme is that the value of the eventual pension is linked annually with inflation. Of course, a successful private scheme might out-perform inflation by bonuses,but this cannot be guaranteed and certainly not predicted long in advance.

The scheme has a number of other attractive features, including the opportunity to buy in added years for pension purposes. By a lump sum payment, or by additional contributions made over time, one can add to the number of years upon which the final calculation is based.

Only you can decide what is best for you and your dependants, but you should use the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme as a yardstick against which to measure any alternatives.

A parent has asked to see the reference which the school has written on his daughter for university entrance. Our records are held on a protected computer file. Am I obliged to allow this, even though it is confidential?

The Data Protection Act covers all material held on a computer and therefore cuts across the regulations made under the Education Reform Act. Higher education references are a good example of this.

One can have an argument about whether students or their parents should see these anyway, and there are conflicting views, but the law is a muddle.

Under the Education (School Records) Regulations 1989, references of this sort can be withdrawn from the file to which parents have access. However, if they are held on a computer, the Data Protection Act insists that access be given.

So, if a school wishes to keep copies of its Universities and Colleges Admissions Service references and does not wish parents or students to have access to them, it must print off hard copies and erase the computer files, keeping the record in an old-fashioned file.

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