26th May 1995 at 01:00

The governors of this local education authority school wish to change the duties of the caretaker, but he insists they have no right to do this unilaterally. Can he obstruct us in this way ?


I am afraid he can. Most LEA employees, from teachers to office staff, enjoy conditions of service which were established as a result of agreements reached between the employers and trade unions. These conditions form part of contracts of employment.

When governing bodies, under local management of schools, took over much of the responsibility for employing their own staff, they were obliged to accept and to honour those previous agreements, except where the services in question became subject to compulsory competitive tendering. While cleaning services were privatised, this did not extend to caretakers, who have remained directly employed.

Contracts can be changed, but this can only be done effectively by agreement - no caretaker is likely to want to negotiate for less favourable terms than he or she currently enjoys. Equally, few governing bodies want to get involved in the business of collective negotiation with unions, because they do not have the experience or the professional back-up to do so effectively.


I retired from headship last year, but I have just learned that a disgruntled parent is seeking to initiate legal action against me over an incident which occurred two years ago. While I am sure that I acted correctly at the time, I am worried about the possible legal costs of defending myself. Have you any advice?


I am assuming that the incident related to actions or decisions which you took in your professional capacity. If so, you were acting as the agent of your employer and, although you are no longer employed, the responsibility for defending this action should be accepted by the employer, to whom you should immediately refer any communication you receive.

I also assume that, like most heads, you belonged to a professional association. Even if you have now resigned from membership, it is likely that the association would take the view that, as the incident took place while you were a member, it would be willing to look after your personal position in relation to any legal action.


My head has instructed me to admit and teach eight three and four-year-olds in my receptionYear 1 class on two afternoons a week. The children are not officially admitted to the school until September. Do I have to accept his ruling?


I am surprised that your head should take a step like this without consulting you first. I can see that this creates real difficulties for you.

It is not uncommon for informal arrangements like this to be made these days, but the first duty of the school is to ensure the proper education of the pupils who are legally entitled to it.

Teachers are, as I have said many times in this column, required to work under the reasonable direction of the head.

On the face of it, this looks pretty unreasonable and your remedy, if informal discussion does not work, lies in lodging a grievance. If you belong to a union, I recommend that you consult it first.


Can a director of education refuse to supply a reference for an applicant for a headship?


Nobody can be compelled to provide a reference for anyone, but it is the normal expectation that senior officers, be they heads or chief education officers, will do so for those who have served under them, unless there are specific reasons for refusing.

In local education authority -controlled schools, the practice has long been to seek the opinion of the chief education officers when it comes to headships.

If, therefore, a reference is being refused, an explanation should be sought at once.

If necessary, a professional association or union might be asked to intervene.

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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