14th July 1995 at 01:00
Q. Our head has expressed concern about staff absences, including hospital appointments and examination moderation meetings. He is particularly unhappy about female staff absent because their own children are sick. Can a head refuse to provide cover for staff absences of this kind?

A. Refusing cover is not really the point here, because a head's first duty is to ensure the welfare and safety of pupils and that means that an absent teacher has to be covered by someone, unless the pupils are to be sent home.

Many heads are seriously concerned about the amount of absence caused by the requirements of moderation of school-based examinations and coursework, in spite very often of their belief that this style of exam is beneficial to pupils.

Exam boards need to pay more attention to their requirements in this respect and, in particular, they need to allow schools the flexibility which would minimise the need to interrupt teaching and learning.

The other issue you raise is quite different.

It may not be a popular thing to say but, when teachers, male or female, accept positions, their first commitment during their directed time of work is to the pupils they are paid to teach and not to their own children.

Those who have young children should, therefore, ensure that arrangements are in place for them to be looked after in the event of their being unwell.

While absence to deal with an emergency can always be accepted on compassionate grounds, continuing absence to mind sick children cannot.

Your head is quite right to express concern, but he should be doing something about it, first by reminding the teachers concerned of the terms of their contract and second by warning them that they cannot be expected to be paid for unauthorised absence.

Q. The local education authority has informed us that we are not allowed to pay our senior administrative officer overtime, even though it is sometimes necessary for her to work extra hours to cope with the workload. I thought that governing bodies decided these things now. Must we still obey the LEA?

A. In this case, you must. Although you have not said so, I assume that the salary grade of this officer is on the APT C local government scale, at a level which is not directly related to hours and therefore overtime cannot be defined.

In other words, her situation is similar to that of the head and deputies, who receive fixed salaries, regardless of how many hours they put in.

If you have established a fixed working week for the senior administrative officer, the only way to resolve your problem is to allow her time off in lieu when the pressure of work is lighter.

Q. Can a doctor charge a fee for a medical report on a student in support of an application for special consideration for university entrance?

A. Yes. Doctors are not required to write medical reports for other people's purposes, however worthy, other than the certificates they are required to sign to cover absence from employment because of illness.

The provision of the report which you require falls outside the work of the National Health Service and the doctor is at liberty to charge a fee at his or her discretion. The British Medical Association gives guidelines on fees.

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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