Helpline

7th November 1997 at 00:00
Q. I am researching the relationship between schools and separated parents. Could you tell me if the advice you gave on January 4, 1994 still holds good?

A

How one's mistakes come back to haunt one! Your research should have taken you a little further, to the column of January 28, 1994, when I apologised for a lapse in the earlier one.

Just to make it clear beyond all doubt: the Children Act 1989 provides that, unless a court order prescribes otherwise, schools must treat equally all those who have parental responsibility for a pupil. This means that each parent is entitled to copies of school reports and to vote in elections for parent-governors or on a change to the status of the school. They also enjoy an equal right to be consulted on any important decisions relating to the pupil.

The school is entitled to ask for information about where the pupil is normally resident and who will sign absence notes, consent forms for school journeys, and so on.

Schools need to avoid becoming involved in matrimonial disputes, which are outside their concern, but they also need to be on the alert for attempts by parents to use the school in pursuance of their private objectives.

Q

In your column last September, you stated that teacher-governors are not allowed to take the chair, either of the full governing body or a committee. Where can I find the authority for this?

A

Both points are covered in the Education (School Government) Regulations, 1989, No 1503. Section 9 (5) states that teacher-governors cannot be chair or vice-chair of the full governing body. Section 26 (7), in the course of dealing with the procedures for setting up properly constituted committees, provides for Section 9 (5) to apply to such committees.

Q

One of the heads of year at our school has informed the head that she has withdrawn her goodwill and will work strictly to contract. This appears to mean that she will only see pupils during lesson time. Can nothing be done about this?

A

Clearly, something ought to be done. Preferably, one would want to tackle the issues which have led to this declaration so that relationships can return to normal, but I accept this may be difficult.

We need to examine what "working to contract" means, because it looks as if this teacher is concentrating on working time, the 1,265 hours during which she is required to be available for duty. She is probably right if she claims that a year head is likely to work for longer than that and she might claim, again with some justice, that her morning and midday breaks are frequently interrupted by the demands of pupils.

On your side, you might argue that she is allocated a greater proportion of non-contact time than most staff, to compensate in part for some of the time she gives up outside lesson time. You might also point out that she receives a number of salary points for the specific duties of year head.

Crucially, you may point out that the School Teacher's Conditions of Service Document refers to duties which cannot be undertaken within the 1,265 hours. Although this section refers to preparation and marking, these are only examples, and the pastoral responsibilities of year heads might fall within this section.

If, therefore, this teacher's interpretation of withdrawing goodwill means she is not doing the job she is paid to do, she is in breach of her contract and at risk of disciplinary action.

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