7th March 1997 at 00:00
Q. We are teachers in a technology suite in which the rooms were designed to accommodate 16 pupils. But we often stretch to 20. New timetable proposals are being put forward to create groups of up to 30. We believe this is very unsafe. What can we do?

A. Situations of this kind are proliferating because of the desperate budgetary position in many schools. Everyone concerned should be trying to give maximum publicity to the problems being created.

Responsibility for determining the size of teaching groups rests with the head, but he or she would be wise to take note of warnings on grounds of health and safety from professional colleagues and advisers. If an accident occurred because such warnings had been disregarded, he or she would have to defend the decision.

This does not mean heads must always heed what teachers say, but that they must exercise their judgement.

The fact that the head may have over-ruled a teacher does not absolve the teacher from all responsibility. What goes on in the classroom or workshop remains the responsibility of the teacher in charge and, if the numbers in the room make it unsafe to allow any specific activity to take place, the teacher should not permit it.

If anyone believes a situation presents an unacceptable risk, he or she should refuse to continue and invoke the aid of the Health and Safety Executive. This should be unnecessary in a school, where reasonable professional discussion should prevail.

Q. There are some old buildings on our school site which are dangerous, but often frequented by trespassers out of school hours. Do we bear any responsibility if someone gets hurt?

A. You might. This matter is covered by the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957, which imposes a duty on the occupier of premises to take reasonable care to ensure that trespassers are not injured. What reasonable may mean in any given circumstances will vary. In some cases, it may be sufficient to erect a prominent sign saying, "Danger! Keep out."

What you must not do is to erect any sort of booby-trap designed to harm an intruder. Reasonable and visible defences are, however, acceptable. To give an example, it would be reasonable to erect a barbed-wire fence. But it would probably be unreasonable to connect the fence to a source of high voltage electricity.

Q. We shall soon be approaching the exam season again and the school has already been told by a parent that we must not publish her son's results in the local paper. Can she insist on this?

A. Yes, unless the lad is over 18 at the operative time, in which case the decision is his. Most local papers like to publish results with names, because it sells more copies, and schools are happy to cooperate. The law, however, only provides for the publication of totals and statistics, not names and, if a parent or adult student declines to allow personal results to appear, his or her right must be respected.

If it is the school's practice to release such details to the papers, the best approach is to inform parents in advance and advise them that publication will go ahead unless a specific request is received that it should not.

Questions should be sent to Helpline, The TES, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XX

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