7th July 1995 at 01:00
Q. Can parents insist that their child be entered for an examination at a higher level than the school considers appropriate, given that they are willing to pay for the entry?

A. This is a subject on which the Parent's Charter is positively misleading, in that it claims that parents do have a right to have their children entered for examinations.

The legal position is set out in section 117 of the Education Reform Act 1988. The governing body is required to enter each pupil for each prescribed examination for which he has been prepared at the school, "at such time as they consider appropriate". They are, however, exempted from that duty if they consider "that there are educational reasons in the case of that particular pupil for not entering him".

The parents' case is doubly flawed here, in that section lob(5)?? of the same Act makes it illegal for a school to charge for an exam entry for a pupil who has been prepared for the examination at the school.

Given section 117, even a "voluntary contribution" to the school funds would not buy the parents the right of entry.

Q. If pupils arrive at school early, are we responsible for their supervision?

A. No. It is unreasonable to expect that supervision should be available for a prolonged period before or after school, although it is generally accepted that teachers may be required to supervise for up to 10 minutes at either end of the day. It is for the head to decide whether a longer period would be appropriate, but teachers required to provide supervision would expect this to be counted as part of their directed time.

It is essential that parents should be informed of the arrangements so that they are aware that, if they send their children at an earlier time, they will be unsupervised.

However, if staff are present, but not on duty, they are not necessarily entirely absolved of responsibility. Whenever staff are present with pupils, they have a professional duty of care. Thus, if they observed a pupil at risk of injury - taking part in a fight, for instance - they would have a duty to intervene, even though the incident was taking place well outside the prescribed hours.

Q. The governing body of this school wants to prohibit Moslem girls from wearing a headdress. Are they wise?

A. On the contrary, they are at risk of acting illegally and you should not hesitate to advise them of the fact. The girls' parents will almost certainly argue that the dress is a requirement of their religious faith and it would be discriminatory under the Race Relations Act to forbid them to do so.

Just to let the governors know where the line is drawn, they may be interested to learn that the courts have decided that Rastafarian dreadlocks do not enjoy the same legal protection, because they are not based on a religious faith.

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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