6th November 1998 at 00:00

We have been asked to provide an employment reference by a former pupil whose record was far from satisfactory. Should we do it? Should we economical with the truth?


While it is customary to ask in advance whether a referee is willing to provide support, it is usually assumed that a school will do so automatically. The law requires that any person writing a reference has a duty of care to the subject of it to be accurate and fair in what is written.

You should however, point out to this individual that the reference you provide may not necessarily be helpful. It can, of course, be minimal: simply a statement of the dates between which the pupil was on the roll, the public examination results which were obtained and the record of attendance. At the same time, you would have to make it clear that you would answer honestly any question that you might be asked by a prospective employer and that such answers might not be entirely supportive.

If the person concerned still wants to use you as a referee, that is his or her choice. Once you have made your position clear, there is no reason for refusing to provide the reference.


A pupil was assaulted outside an end-of-term party organised by the school. At the time, staff attended to him, he appeared not to be seriously harmed and he continued to enjoy the party. It was later discovered that a bone was broken and his parents are complaining that the school was negligent. Were we?


Only a court weighing up the evidence could answer that question, but let us hope that it does not come to that.

On the face of it, I can see no evidence of negligence. The fact that the party was organised by the school and attended by members of staff leaves no room for doubt that the school was responsible for supervising the pupils present. Whether it was reasonable for the injured pupil to be outside and unsupervised when he was attacked depends upon his age, the way in which the event was managed, its location and so on. There may well have been no reason for him not to step out for a breath of fresh air and no reason for him to have sought permission to do so.

The staff do not seem to have been negligent, once the incident was reported to them. They looked after him and observed that he was able to continue enjoying himself. Assuming he had reported no symptoms to them that would have alerted them to the need for immediate medical attention, it is hard to see that they could have done more. They were not medically qualified and would appear to have acted as a reasonable parent would act in the circumstances, exercising the duty of care to the best of their ability.

Finally, one would need to know whether the delay in receiving treatment for the injury made any material difference to the boy in terms of his suffering and subsequent recovery.


I am now the sole deputy head in my school, where there were previously two, and the governors tell me that I cannot have a salary increase, because I have not had any performance targets? Is this fair?


No, it is not. Your governors have let you down badly.

Their decision relates to Section 4.4 of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions of Service Document, where it is laid down that a pay rise cannot be awarded without a review of performance in the light of criteria previously agreed between the governors and the head or deputy.

Once the review has taken place, a pay rise can be awarded which is not necessarily related to those criteria. It can be related to the responsibilities of the post, the social, economic and cultural background of the pupils or the difficulty of filling the post.

Where your governors have let you down is in failing to do their duty last year in agreeing the criteria for the review. It should not be beyond their wit to argue that they were informally established and, on that basis, conduct this year's review and agree an increase on the grounds of the increased responsibilities which you now carry. I hope they can be persuaded, but, in any case, don't let them make the same mistake again.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today