Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Q & A

Stop police!

Q The local police have called to say they are coming into the school to interview a pupil over an incident of vandalism that happened at the local shops. I have told them that I am not prepared to allow them in school as it will cause all sorts of chaos. The police are insisting that I have to let them in. Are they correct?

A You are legally obliged to allow the police to enter your school in the pursuit of a criminal case. Most police forces will be cooperative and will arrange to visit at times when their presence will be the least disruptive and in circumstances which allow them to be less easily identifiable as police officers - for instance by wearing civilian clothes. However, at the end of the day if the police tell you that they are investigating a crime and they wish to enter your school you have no option other than to allow them to do so.

Re:tired advice

Q I am a deputy head, I am 57 years old, I am burnt out. I have had enough and I want to retire. However, my LEA tells me I cannot have access to my pension until I am 60. I do not believe them. If this were true it would be scandalous. What about all the years' service I have put in and the money I paid into my pension?

A You can have access to your pension now but it would be actuarially reduced. This means that a proportion of your pension and a slightly different proportion of your lump sum would be worked out based upon life-expectancy. In general terms, it is considered inadvisable to go for an actuarially reduced pension since it is an irreversible decision and your life-expectancy is something which clearly nobody knows. You may well lose out by living to a very old age!

You may have other options which you could persuade your employer to look at or, if you are really burnt out, you may find that a pension granted for ill health is possible. However, criteria for ill health pensions are extremely stringent and just being 'burnt out' would not be considered adequate unless you are suffering from some clinical, medically-diagnosed condition. You may find that past added years would help you by virtue of buying in or AVCs.

In matters like these, members are always advised to contact the SHA hotline who will advise you or pass you to SHA's pensions consultant.

It's just not cricket

Q One of our year seven pupil's parents are estranged but both have parenting rights confirmed by the courts. They are, however, at loggerheads most of the time and the father is currently refusing to allow his son to stay for after-school cricket, whilst the mother, with whom the child lives, is happy to allow it. What do we do?

A You, and the school, must do your utmost to avoid being caught in what is a family matter. It is not for the school to take sides but rather for you as the head to point out that the school cannot and will not make a decision one way or the other. You should tell both the mother and father separately that, unless or until you have an agreement from both of them, you are unwilling to change the status quo and also that you are unwilling to act in any way to assist them to come to any decision. This, however, is easier said than done and this area is one where many schools suffer the consequences of parental fall-outs for months, if not years.

Call Charges

Q I am a head of an inner city school in an economically deprived area. A child in year seven had his mobile taken off him in class and it was confiscated until the end of the day. When he went to the teacher who had held it for safe keeping the teacher was unable to find the phone. It had gone missing. The child's mother is demanding a replacement claiming that a new one will cost over £200. Is the school really held responsible? The child clearly knew he was not allowed to have it in class and what the consequences would be.

A The school is responsible as the phone was in the school's safe keeping. Schools are always advised to design a sensible code of practice for dealing with confiscation and this code of practice should include time limits considered suitable and the keeping of records of what is confiscated and to whom the property belongs. Schools are also advised to have a written policy on when pupils can use or carry mobile phones.

Suspend to investigate

Q One of the heads of year has twice harassed a new teacher, berating her verbally over what are understandable omissions from a starter. This is the first time I have had problems with this head of year, but I believe this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. I am proposing to suspend him pending a full investigation. Are there any legal issues if I do this - will I be opening myself up to prosecution later on?

A Suspension is always a grey area. It is most often used in cases of gross misconduct and someone may rightly say that this does not fall into that category, although it is a matter of judgement. However, it can also be used to prevent the suborning of people involved in a case and other people who may become witnesses. In this particular incident, our view is that you would be acting appropriately, and wisely, to suspend the head of year whilst you investigate and come to a conclusion. This way he will not be in a position to interfere with facts as you gather them.

Poor report for pushy parent

Q I am a deputy head in a community comprehensive school. Recently I was yelled at and threatened just outside the school gates by a difficult parent whom the head has already banned from the site under public order and anti-harassment legislation. I have put the details of what happened on record in writing and I intend to report the matter to the police for them to take further action. Is there anything else you feel that I should do?

A Our view is that you should arrange a meeting with your head and governors to discuss the complaint. You need to be completely open about everything that has been said, even though you may well feel uncomfortable and this in itself might lead to your feelings of harassment. It is also possible that this meeting could be a step on the way to settling things with this particular parent, in that you could set up a code of conduct for expected behaviour in future meetings.

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