Helpline

19th May 1995 at 01:00
Q. As IT co-ordinator in a grant-maintained primary school, I am being put under pressure by some of the governors to purchase computers which I believe to be unsuitable for our purposes. They are not prepared to consider either what is already in use or my advice - or that of my colleagues. I accept that they are my employers, but is their conduct acceptable?

A. No, it is not. First, these particular governors are not your employers: you are employed by the whole governing body, acting collectively, and individual governors, or groups of them, have only such powers as the full body has explicitly delegated to them.

Second, these governors are stepping well beyond the ill-defined line which separates the powers and duties of governors from those of the head. It is the duty of the governing body to set the budget; within it they will allocate specific sums for the purchase and maintenance of equipment, including computers.

Decisions about the spending of that budget fall within the internal management and control of the school, which is vested in the head. He or she is accountable to the governors for spending that money efficiently and effectively in the interests of pupils and, if the governors feel that this has not been done, they have the duty to say so.

One would not expect a head to leave decisions on the purchase of equipment to governors, nor should governors seek this themselves. On the other hand, if there are governors who have specialist knowledge of computers, the head should consult them before coming to a decision. In the end, governors should rely on professional expertise in matters which relate, as this does, to classroom practice.

Q. A pupil removed a dangerous substance from the store of our technology department. Thanks to prompt action by the police, it was recovered and no harm was done. What action should the head take?

A. The first question must be to find out whether the substance was genuinely needed by the department and for what purpose.

The second is to establish how it came to be left in a place where it was possible for the pupil to get hold of it. The third is to investigate the misbehaviour of the pupil concerned.

Disciplinary action may then follow. If there was no good reason for the substance to be in the school, the person who brought it there should at least be given a formal warning. If it was needed by the department, the question of the security of this and other dangerous substances should be examined to ensure that such a theft could not happen again.

If there was an element of negligence in leaving the substance where the pupil had access to it, the person who was responsible for that neglect may also need to be warned.

The relatively easy part, I suspect, is to discipline the pupil. His or her punishment will, as ever, depend upon the circumstances, the motivation and the degree of remorse for what was at best, extremely foolish, and, at worst, criminal.

Q. With reference to your advice about accompanying pupils to hospital (Helpline, March 10), surely it should be acceptable to leave them in the care of the ambulance service, who are trained and competent to deal with traumatic situations?

Is there not also a risk that other children may be left without adequate supervision?

A. Yes, of course ambulance service personnel are capable of taking charge of the sick or injured pupil.

The point of the accompanying teacher or other adult from the school is to provide the reassurance of a familiar face and to do what a responsible parent would wish to do in such circumstances.

As always, the decision is a matter of professional judgment and the needs of other pupils have to be taken into account in making it.

Q. Is there any reason why our school in-house cleaning service, which successfully tendered for our contract, should not bid for the contract at the neighbouring junior school?

A. All competitive tendering is governed by the regulations and, subject to those being observed and the tendering procedures being properly followed, I can see no reason why your team should not be allowed to compete for this work.

Many local authority departments tender for contracts: your group should enjoy the same access to the market.

Archimedes

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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