Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders


Peer pressure

Q We had an ongoing problem between two groups of girls - fairly low level - toward the end of last term which seems to have died down. They have been told that if another incident occurs they will be disciplined more severely. However, my problem is not with the girls involved; it's with the parents. One has demanded that she be allowed to sit in on all meetings with staff in which her daughter is involved. This is bound to escalate the problem. What happens if I refuse her request?

A A situation like this has not been tested in court so there are no hard and fast rules we can offer. However, logically it would seem that impractical for parents to expect that they be involved whenever there is an issue with their son or daughter.

If such a case went to court, a judge is likely to take the view that a teacher is 'in loco parentis' and must be allowed to carry out her or his professional duty uninterrupted by others.

It would not be reasonable to expect the school to tolerate delays in setting up joint meetings, conflict arising out of cross examinations, or the unfairness resulting from the unavailability of parents. All of these would hamper the effectiveness of the school's procedures.

If you explain this to the parent and she continues to make unreasonable demands about her presence, you could point out that she can make a formal complaint to the governors, who will have to decide whether the school is operating according to the relevant law, guidelines and regulations.

If they governing body has been accurately briefed on these, it should have no qualms about deciding in school's favour.

Litter warning for schools

Q I have been told by one of our city councillors, who happens to live across from the school, that the school could be fined for litter that our students produce. Surely this is going one step too far? I acknowledge that we are responsible for students' behaviour when in our care but I find it hard to accept that the school should be fined if a student is caught dropping a crisp packet at the gate.

A Technically it is true that a school can be fined for litter, although the example you mention is unlikely. Rather, the legislation is about making a poor situation better over a period of time through improvement strategies and monitoring.

If the local authority determines that the school is failing to address a poor litter situation that falls into category C (a lot of litter with small build-ups) or D (a lot of litter with large build-ups), the authority can issue a 'litter abatement notice'. The local authority could declare a 'litter control area' to monitor and improve the situation over a given time frame.

Schools must comply with the environmental protection legislation and must keep their premises clear of litter as far as is practicable and reasonable. There is a code of practice on litter and refuse, obtainable from the local authority, which details what schools must do to comply. If a school is found to be failing, 24 hours' notice can be given to improve.

Any citizen, including pupils, can take legal action against the school to get litter removed if the situation falls below the required standard for longer than allowed. Those who drop litter are criminals and are liable to fines of up to £2,500.

A clear line of sight for classroom observation?

Q An issue with classroom observation has surfaced in relation to a capability issue I am having with a particular teacher. The NASUWT rep has just informed me that according to an agreement signed by SHA (as was) and his union, I cannot undertake more than three hours' lesson observation per year for any particular teacher.

This would make the monitoring necessary for internal review well nigh impossible, let alone dealing with capability issues of individuals. I sincerely hope the association has not put me in this position.

A The union rep has misread the facts. The guidance that the association issued jointly with NASUWT in 2003 states: "The team leader will undertake classroom observation sufficient to make an informed judgement. It is reasonable to set a maximum of three hours for lesson observations for aspects of appraisal (and performance management) throughout the year."

The guidance goes on: "However, in exceptional circumstances, where an Ofsted report declares the school either to be in need of special measures or suffering from serious weaknesses, or in the case of an individual teacher becoming subject to capability procedures, additional observation may be necessary."

You should also point out to the rep that the statement was issued as advice and guidance. It is neither rigid nor binding.

The issue of monitoring was not specifically mentioned and cannot be ruled out. We would advise members to be clear with staff about the purposes of the monitoring (as distinct from appraisal/performance management) and to share with them the steps that have been taken to prevent excessive burdens on staff.

If peer appraisal is being considered, it should not be affected by any interpretation of the joint guidance, because willing teachers would do so on their own initiative, which would not count towards the three hours.

External monitoring is not referred to in the joint guidance.

The Rewards and Incentives Group (RIG), on which ASCL is represented along with the government and other unions, will be looking at classroom observation this year as part of their review of performance management. We will keep members updated of any developments.

In absentia...

Q As a deputy head, do I have the power to exclude a pupil in the headteacher's absence? Our head has taken over a second school this term which is 30 miles away and therefore has been in the building only one, or at most two, days a week. In nearly all aspects this hasn't been an issue, but exclusion seems to be a grey area.

A You are right - this is a grey area. The DfES guidance Improving Behaviour and Attendance: Guidance on Exclusion from Schools and Referral Units says that in the absence of the headteacher the most senior teacher who is acting in that role can exclude a pupil. However, while this is quite common practice, there is actually no legal basis for this suggestion.

The legal argument is complicated, but essentially because of a gap in the law there are weaknesses currently in the way tasks are delegated to deputies.

Legal advisers suggest that it is always best for the head to personally take decisions to exclude so that there is no suggestion of improper delegation.

While it isn't ideal, the best solution is to have a system whereby the decision is made by the head at the earliest convenience, using modern communication in his or her absence or delaying the decision if an alternative containment strategy can be found.

As an aside, there is no issue with acting headteachers - they rightly and legally assume the power to exclude.

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