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.

Arresting developments

Q One of our youngsters was involved in an altercation and a scuffle near the school. The police turned up the next day and said that a complaint had been made and they were coming in to arrest him. They think this will have a good effect on other students.

When I objected they said they could go anywhere they wanted to make an arrest. Can they? They also demanded to know whether any teachers had seen what had happened and threatened that if they didn't cooperate they might be guilty of obstructing the police in the course of their duty. Is this right?

A Under Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 the police have the right to enter any premises to arrest a person who they believe may be guilty of an arrestable offence. On the face of it the pupil concerned has committed an arrestable offence - assault and battery. The police therefore do have the right to come on to your premises.

The issue of obstructing a constable in the course of his duty is a little less clear cut. The police are generally taught that a person obstructs a constable if s/he prevents him from carrying out his duties or makes it more difficult for him to do so.

The motive for the act is irrelevant. So again, the policeman concerned was probably technically right.

However, the spirit in which this seems to have been done is worrying and completely contrary to the whole spirit of safer schools.

While it is good that the police recognise their responsibility to control behaviour out of school, this kind of aggression and arrogance is unwelcome. This might be a matter for the local association take up with director of children's services and, through him/her, with the chief constable in the area.

Voicing concerns

Q A member of staff has been to complain about voice strain. She has told me that she is losing her voice and as this is a disability I must do something about it - is she right?

A Many teachers regularly experience voice strain or fatigue and it can be regarded as part of the job. In serious cases voice damage can be severe and long-term or permanent.

This teacher is right. Voice damage counts as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. If it is serious enough and likely to last or has already lasted for at least a year, there is a duty to make reasonable adjustments. These might take the form of making changes to the acoustics of the teaching environment or providing affected teachers with personal microphones.

Employers have a common law duty of care and a duty under health and safety legislation, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, to take reasonable steps to protect teachers' voices from foreseeable harm.

As part of training, schools are encouraged to make staff aware of the signs of voice damage and how to prevent them. Voice straining and voice loss is directly related to voice misuse. The most common misuse is shouting and screaming, strained loud voice and throat clearing.

Conflict of interest raises question of trust

Q As the head of an independent school I'm concerned about conflicts of interest and the role of our governors who are charity trustees. What is the position for those who have children in the school when the governing body is taking decisions about fee increases, for example? They've asked my advice and I don't want to get it wrong.

A You're right to be concerned. The legal view is that "it is a fundamental principle that a fiduciary (a trustee) does not put him/ herself in a position where his/her fiduciary and personal interests might conflict". This principle has been extended to staff governors where the test has been 'an interest greater than the average governor'.

The Companies' Act 2006 has raised the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest and governing bodies often require governors to sign a declaration of conflicts interest form and they also ask for declarations to be made at the outset of every meeting. Governors who are also parents should be able to contribute to the discussion about fees, having declared their interest, but they certainly should not vote. It may be wise for them to withdraw in the event of a vote and this is recommended as good practice. All this should be recorded in the minutes.

The Charity Commission's website www.charitycommission.gov.uk has many useful documents including A Guide to Conflicts of Interest for Charity Trustees and CC3 - The Essential Trustee: What you need to know. It would be a good idea to draw these to your trustees' attention and to suggest some training for the governing body.

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