5th July 1996 at 01:00
The local education authority has advised my governing body that if they persist in banning the wearing of trousers by girls they may be taken to court for sex discrimination. Must we listen to this nonsense?

No, you do not have to listen, but you should at least be aware of the possible consequences of your deafness.

Under the Equal Opportunities Act, discrimination occurs whenever it can be shown that a girl is treated, by reason of her sex, less favourably than a boy. The reverse is also true. So, if, by preventing girls from wearing trousers to school, you are treating them less favourably than boys, then you are open to challenge.

There is one possible line of defence. If you can demonstrate that the rules are equally stringent with regard to boys, a court might find that the code is even-handed and that no discrimination exists.

There was a precedent of sorts established in the Court of Appeal earlier this year, (Smith v Safeway plc) when the supermarket chain successfully defended itself against a charge of discrimination on exactly the grounds I have described.

Whether the courts would take the same view of school dress is a matter for speculation. If your fellow governors wish to disregard the authority's advice, yours might be the test case.

As a head, I was horrified to learn that a chairman of governors had quoted comments out of context which I had made on a teacher in a confidential reference, in front of the candidate at interview. Surely, this is both irregular and unprofessional?

I believe that it was wrong to use a confidential reference in this way, although there is a fine line to be drawn between actual quotation and a searching question, prompted by information which has been provided.

Unfortunate though it was, however, if the candidate was shocked and surprised by what you had written, it may be time for you to examine your procedure for preparing references.

In some LEAs, it is a rule that all references must be shown to the subject of them, although some people take the view that this reduces the value of the reference.

Whether this is the rule or not, where there is a well-managed system of staff development, every teacher should be aware of the current evaluation of his or her performance. That evaluation should form the basis of a reference and, again, in a well-managed system, that reference should be discussed with the teacher before it is sent. Whether this involves reading the actual words is a moot point.

Is there any remedy available to a teacher who has been made redundant once the period for lodging a claim for unfair dismissal has elapsed? Should the fact of contesting one's dismissal damage one's prospects of a favourable reference?

Unless there were circumstances surrounding the redundancy which might give you a claim for damages, I can see no remedy. If you are a member of a union, they will be able to advise you if anything can be done.

On the matter of a reference, I do not believe that a school would feel vindictive because a person had fought to keep a job. Your departure was related neither to incompetence nor to misconduct and, unless you have evidence to believe otherwise, you should assume that your previous employer will provide a fair appraisal of your service.

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