Search for the truth

16th February 2001 at 00:00
Teachers' 'parental role' at school allows them some checks on pupil behaviour.

Does a teacher have the right to search a pupil's bag?

AS a last resort, yes. A teacher in charge of pupils is in loco parentis and may, therefore, be assumed to enjoy the same right as a parent to check on pupils' behaviour, if necessary, by examining the contents of his pockets, bags or locker.

We must also, however, respect pupils' right to privacy and not infringe that without good cause. If there is reason to believe that pupils may possess something illegal, contrary to school rules or dangerous, then there is a clear duty to investigate. Ideally, this is be done with consent. Pupils should be invited, in the presence of a witness, to present their property for inspection.

If they refuse, parents should be summoned and their co-operation invited. If they are not available or unwilling, the search should be carried out in front of witnesses and a note kept of what took place.

A parent who complained about the conduct of one of my staff is insisting that the matter should be referred to the disciplinary committee of the governing body. How should I the head, respond?

Assuming that, having investigated the complaint thoroughly, you have concluded that such a referral is unjustified, you should politely, but firmly, decline to do so.

A parent has the right to expect that such a complaint be properly investigated and that he or she be told the outcome. Your reply should indicate that all such complaints are taken seriously and that, in this case, either that it has not been substantiated or that appropriate disciplinary action has been taken. The decision on the nature of disciplinary action is yours and that includes determining whether it is sufficiently serious to warrant a referral to the governors. If you take formal disciplinary action, the teacher has a right of appeal to the governors.

If the parent is not satisfied, he or she can approach the chair of governors who might, although there is no obligation to do so, review the case and respond to the parent.

Although the intention is to avoid dead ends, I found myself in one or two. But as the general tone is friendly and users are encouraged to email feedback, the site should become even more accessible over time.

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