Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Avoiding misdirected criticism

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Q

I am a deputy head in a maintained community comprehensive. In my presence, and on more than one occasion, one of our teachers has been critical of the head to prospective and current pupils.

It's one thing to have a quiet moan in the staff room but quite another, I believe, to express it in front of pupils. There was nothing libellous said but the teacher suggested that the head isn't doing his job effectively. I just do not know how to proceed.

A

This is very much a disciplinary matter because all employees owe the employer a duty of loyalty. It does not matter that the remarks were not libellous. In this instance the headteacher is the employer's representative and the duty of trust certainly includes loyalty and a degree of circumspection at all times, especially where pupils and prospective pupils are involved. Your approach could well be either informal or formal but should revolve around the disciplinary procedures your school has in place.

Q

We are a normally leafy green suburbs comprehensive. As head, I have been the butt of a mother's delusions about me for the last few months. It all started off when I received a letter saying I had victimised her son. This developed into accusations of fraudulent conduct on my part, and then the mother reported me to the police for blackmail!

The police have let me know that they do not take any of these accusations seriously, considering the mother to be psychologically unsound, but nevertheless the saga is sapping my energy. I have heard this morning that the mother has now told one of my staff that I am involved in deviant practices and she is going to tell all to the local paper. What on earth can I do?

A

This is, unfortunately, an all too common issue. There are several courses of action for you, but the correct one will be decided in consultation with others, including your LEA, the chair of governors and the police.

A SHA field officer is available to assist you in stopping this nuisance parent from troubling you further. The hotline will alert a field officer in your area who will contact you directly. It may be that a stiff letter from the field officer to the mother will do the trick.

Or the LEA legal branch may be appropriate: for example, you could get the mother banned from the school grounds, using S547 of the 1996 Education Act. You will have to steer a careful course to ensure that you are not seen to be vindictive in your behaviour.

Q

We are a maintained community school with a large and successful sixth form. Recently two Year 11 boys were caught red handed stealing from fellow pupils' clothing in the sports changing room. I want to exclude them from entry to the sixth form but have been told that is not possible. What do you advise?

A

The current advice is that where you run a school with a sixth form, you must maintain equal access to that sixth form for all pupils and you should not exclude pupils from entry for reasons other than that they have been excluded from school permanently.

In other words, you cannot give these two boys a temporary exclusion now and then stop them entering the sixth form when their turn comes round. Nor could you exclude them for reasons such as that you do not believe pupils' academic ability will enable them to cope with the sixth form, unless this has been previously spelt out clearly in the school brochure.

Q

I am head of an independent grammar school. We have recently employed as head of chemistry a member of staff who is about to go on maternity leave.

Her performance this term has been highly unsatisfactory despite references from another local independent school of good standing, which were strong. What should I do about it at this stage? Is it worth dealing with it before she goes on maternity leave?

A

She should be allowed, in our view, to depart on maternity leave but on her return she should be seen and told about her performance to date. She must be given a chance to improve her performance, but if necessary be prepared to use your competence procedures.

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