Helpline;School Management

10th April 1998 at 01:00
Q: A separated parent has asked me, as head, to arrange for him to meet his son in school. Should I comply with his request, assuming the boy is willing?

A: The problems of broken homes impinge on schools in a variety of ways and heads have to be careful to avoid involvement in matters that are not properly their concern.

You have to ask yourself whether it is your usual practice to allow parents to meet their children in school. Given that the answer is No, can you really justify making an exception in this case? When marriages break up, the question of access to the children can become a contentious issue - this has to be resolved by the parents themselves or, if they cannot agree, by a court order.

Your legal duty is to give each parent information on the pupil's progress and to deal with whoever has custody on the day-to-day issues of attendance, school journeys and the like. Beyond that, you should take care not to appear to take sides or to be exploited by either parent.

Q: I punished a whole class because some miscreants would not own up. The governors have had a complaint from a parent, but surely discipline is a matter for me, as head?

A: Is there a teacher anywhere who, in desperation, has not threatened a class that they will all suffer if the guilty parties are not identified? Equally, we all know that this tactic seldom works, and that it is unfair to the majority.

There are times when there seems to be no alternative. The collective punishment can be defended as being in the best interests of the school and its pupils. You are right in saying that the discipline of the school is the responsibility of the head, subject to the statement of disciplinary policy made by the governors. One would expect them to deal with the complaint by asking you to explain what had happened and then to tell the parents that you enjoyed their support in upholding high standards of behaviour. If they think you may have made an error, they should let you know that in private afterwards.

Q: Is my head entitled to require me to wear a suit to school?

A: This is a matter of general employment law. Any employer is entitled to lay down reasonable requirements on dress for all employees. Failure to comply can be grounds for disciplinary action.

Governing bodies may therefore specify what they expect, bearing in mind the need for protective clothing in laboratories and workshops and appropriate wear for PE and games. They need to ensure that their requirements are equally stringent for men and women and are reasonable in relation to working conditions.

Whether the requirement to wear a suit, as opposed to other generally smart attire, is reasonable is a matter of judgment. The route for a challenge is by grievance, or the matter could be taken up collectively by your union.

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