20th September 1996 at 01:00
Q. A parent has alleged that a teacher has struck his son and he is threatening to report the matter to the police. As head, how should I react?

A. You should be calm and firm. The fact that this parent is threatening to tell the police before actually doing so is probably an indication that he wants you to deal with the matter while reserving his right to go to law if your action does not satisfy him.

The first step must be to buy time. Tell the parent that you can only deal with the matter if he is ready to leave it with you, at least until you have reported back to him. Promise that the allegation will be investigated and that you will report back as soon as possible.

Instruct a deputy, or other senior member of staff, to conduct the investigation, interviewing both teacher and pupil. Any evidence alleged as physical signs of the assault should be noted and, if possible, examined by a doctor. The teacher should be advised to contact his or her union and invited to make a statement. Other witnesses, including pupils, should be questioned as quickly as possible to avoid collusion.

When you have the report you will have to decide what action to take. If you believe that the teacher is guiltless, you must say so and be ready to face the parent. If you find that the teacher acted improperly, you have to determine the appropriate action. This may, or may not, need to be taken to a disciplinary committee of the governors. The teacher has a right to appeal against the decision.

None of this deprives the parent of the right to press charges if he so wishes, but your properly documented investigation will be helpful to the police if necessary.

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.

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