Working week

12th September 2003 at 01:00
Your job and career questions answered

Q Could you give me a quick run down of the grievance and complaints procedures for staff in schools? This is for my teaching assistants course level 2.

A

Your local trade unions will have agreed a procedure with the local authority. It may be different in some details for non-teaching staff, as opposed to teachers, and would usually be referred to in your contract of employment.

Government plans for a radical overhaul of dispute resolution procedures were published in July and are the subject of a consultation exercise. If agreed, from October 2004, employers and employees will be required to follow a minimum three-stage process to ensure disputes are discussed at work. The process will require: the problem to be set out in writing with full details provided to the other party; a meeting to discuss the problem; and an appeals procedure.

The draft regulations, which flow from the Employment Act 2002, also suggest employees will not be able to make claims to employment tribunals unless they have previously raised a formal grievance at work - and that employers who dismiss staff without using the statutory procedure will normally be guilty of unfair dismissal. More details are on the DTI website at www.dti.gov.uk.

Q

I teach at an international school. We have problems with the head who appointed his wife to the staff. She has been verbally, racially and physically abusing children and has been protected by him. The parents now know and she may be dismissed, but the governors are still supporting the head. We have evidence that similar events took place in two previous schools, with the two of them being dismissed. Is there any agency we can appeal too? What can we do to stop this happening at their next school?

A

Much will depend upon the type and location of the school.

Some schools are businesses run for profit by their owners, who may also be the headteacher; others are charitable foundations where all staff including the head and teachers are appointed by governors; and yet others have some variation of one of these two main types.

The answer to your question is, therefore, more complicated than it might be. If no legal charges of abuse have been proven you should be very careful about what you say or write.

In an owner-controlled school operated as a profit-making business, there is probably nothing to stop the owner appointing their partner to the staff. In other schools, the governing body has a duty to ensure normal recruitment practices have been followed. However, in many countries, employment law is less well developed than in Europe or North America.

This might be something for the bodies that accredit these schools to consider. A "whistle-blowing" agreement that schools signed up to might be a first step but it would be difficult to enforce. In the end, the criminal law must be invoked where there is abuse that breaks the law.

Send your career and pay questions to john.howson@lineone.net

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