Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Advice from the hotline...

The ASCL hotline is a completely confidential service available to answer members' questions on issues that arise in school/ college. The questions and answers below are based on real calls to the hotline. To protect confidentiality, all scenarios have been anonymised. If you need advice on a personal or professional issue, call 0116 299 1122 and ask for the hotline officer.

Shut down on improper IT use

Q One of the teachers was found to be using a school laptop for personal matters (accessing his bank account and reading an online newspaper) whilst his class was working on a test paper he had given them. We have the records of what happened and I feel he should be disciplined. A colleague has suggested that if the computer use was for less than 5 per cent (three minutes out of an hour-long lesson) of the teaching time - which it was - I cannot do more than give him a verbal warning. Please could you advise?

A Because of the minimal time involved, the disciplinary action would not be for gross misconduct but it is nevertheless a clear breach of duty to be using class time for a non-teaching purpose and - provided the school has an IT policy which says so and which has been brought to the attention of staff - to use school equipment for private matters.

This conduct should be nipped in the bud. A verbal warning should be sufficient for this relatively minor transgression, particularly if it is a first offence, but any repetition of the behaviour would warrant more serious action.

Concerns raised over academy transfer

Q I work in a school that is about to become an academy. The TUPE arrangements (which protect employees' terms and conditions) are all in place and there will be posts for everyone currently in the school. Some teaching staff, however, do not wish to work in an academy and therefore do not wish to take up the posts that have been offered to them. Do they have any options other than to accept the post offered or to resign? Others wish to join the staff of the new academy but are fearful that there may be a re-organisation after it opens. How long are their jobs safe under TUPE?

A The answer to your first question is that if an employee chooses not to transfer even though the post is suitably similar to the existing post, s/he will not be entitled to redundancy payment. If the post offered is substantially worse in terms and conditions, s/he could resign and claim constructive dismissal. That might be argued in the case of a shift to a faith school (though it has never been tested in court and is more likely to fail than not). The other options are to take the post or resign on notice.

In answer to your second question, terms and conditions may not be changed for a reason connected to the transfer. It is generally accepted that a year after the transfer has happened, the procedure of transfer is regarded as being finished, but that might not be the case if the new school deliberately takes everyone on knowing that they will re-structure in a year's time. Any alteration of terms and conditions without agreement may be a breach of contract entitling the employee to resign and bring a claim for constructive dismissal.

Parent/ teacher associations

Q I am a deputy head and have been at the receiving end of some very unpleasant behaviour from the parent of one of our year 9 students. He shouted and swore at me and threatened me with similar behaviour in future unless I acceded to his request regarding his son. Can the head ban him from coming on to the school site? Can this be an indefinite ban?

A There is a whole raft of legal remedies to this. It is a criminal offence to cause a disturbance on or near educational premises. The parent concerned has committed common law assault if it caused you to feel afraid. It is also abusive behaviour.

If this has occurred more than once it is a course of conduct in legal terms, and if it has caused alarm or distress then it meets the legal definition of criminal harassment for which a parent can be prosecuted.

The parent can be told to leave the premises and the police can be asked to assist in removing him. School staff can also remove him using such force as is reasonable in the circumstances. The school is entitled to withdraw permission for the parent to be on the premises but must give the parent the chance to explain his conduct and explain why the permission should not be withdrawn. The school has a duty of care to its employees and should not let this pass.

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