4th April 1997 at 01:00
Q. How can a supply teacher deal with victimisation by a full-time teacher? Does the affected individual have recourse to the grievance procedure?

A. One is tempted to say that the best way for a supply teacher to demonstrate an objection to the treatment received at a school is to decline to accept further assignments there and to let the head know why.

Such action may, however, deprive the victimised teacher of an opportunity to work. So it is reasonable, if necessary, to invoke the grievance procedure, although this could be carried out only while the supply teacher was employed at the school. Even if the hearing of the grievance occurred after the supply engagement had ended, one would hope that a governing body would wish, in the interests of equity, to see the matter through.

I fear, however, that any victory gained might be a pyrrhic one because of the effect on future employment opportunities. Still, it would probably make the victimised individual feel better.

Q. Can we advertise for a female deputy head so we can improve the gender balance on our senior management team?

A. I doubt it. Equal opportunities legislation allows for gender specific advertisements only in cases where the person's sex is an essential requirement of the post. In school terms, this means that physical education is the only area where such an advertisement would be acceptable. It would be difficult to make a case for specifying the sex of potential applicants for a deputy head's post, even though such practice was common in the past.

I am bound to say, though, that I have much sympathy with the reason behind your request - a proper gender balance at the top is highly desirable and your governors would be right to try to achieve it.

Their approach will need to be more subtle, however. While they cannot specify gender in their advertisement, or, indeed, the material they send to prospective applicants, they can clearly state their commitment to the principle of gender balance and they can list the names of current postholders. An intelligent reader could then make deductions about his or her prospects of securing the job, and there is nothing to prevent the appointing panel from deciding between two evenly matched candidates on the basis of their need to achieve a balance.

Q. Should we expect the police to prosecute a pupil who maliciously sets off the school's fire alarm?

A. These days, the police do not prosecute anyone. They forward details of any alleged offence along with the relevant evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which decides whether or not to proceed. The police can, if they so decide, issue a caution, which is listed as an offence on their records.

In general, the CPS would be unlikely to prosecute a minor for a first offence of this nature and the police, although they might well be willing to support the school by speaking to the pupil, would probably prefer to see the matter dealt with by the school's own disciplinary procedures.

This question illustrates the importance of schools establishing good links with their local police forces, so there is a clear understanding of when and how the police can most effectively help the school. Pupils may commit acts which are offences in law, such as damaging a fire alarm, but it does not follow that police action is always the best answer.

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