Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Q&A

Budding footballers get out of hand

Q We had an incident recently on the school grounds with a group of lads who were messing about with a football during the lunch break. One of the boys kicked another one hard enough that the one on the receiving end had to go to the hospital for treatment. The boy who did the kicking says it was purely an accident but the parents of the other boy are claiming it was intentional (the boy who was kicked isn't saying anything). A staff member was on duty outside but didn't see the incident. We have told the parents that there is nothing the school can do because we cannot prove there was any malicious intent and therefore it doesn't fall within the behaviour policy. However, the parents have now threatened a claim against the school for failing to protect their son.

A In theory, yes, the parents could make a negligence claim against the school. But they would have to prove that the school was at fault and, in particular, that the action of the pupil was foreseeable.

It would be very difficult to prove that the school was at fault. It sounds as if you have a discipline policy, the staff are aware of their duty of care and supervision was in place and the area was monitored. With all that in place, you are in a strong position. It is even more difficult to prove that an action by a pupil was foreseeable. There is no assumption in law that all the actions of young people can be predicted and only 'reasonable' care is expected. An instance where it might be possible to prove foreseeablilty would be if the pupil had a history of violent behaviour and if the school's risk assessment failed to identify the support and controls necessary to minimise risk to others.

Another possibility is that the parents could make a claim against the school for breach of statutory duty. In that case, the claim would be related to health and safety legislation, which refers to the need for a risk assessment and the appropriate information and training for staff. Given the circumstances of the incident, as long as there were no identified risks associated with the area in which they were playing or equipment they were using, you should be in a good position here as well.

On a level playing field

Q Under the restructuring plan for our school, in which I am an assistant headteacher, there is going to be a new deputy head post created. The head has intimated that she wishes to give me a more senior role and I, of course, would relish the chance to have the post. Under the restructuring regulations, can the new post be given to me without going through an interview process?

A According to the Staffing Regulations 2003 and the accompanying guidance, all deputy headteacher posts in maintained schools have to be advertised in a national educational medium. If you apply for the post you will be in fair competition with all other applicants and no special dispensation can be given to you as an employee of the school.

Saving PPA time

Q Staff in the modern languages department at our school are already preparing for exams next term - they are asking for 'compensatory' time off in lieu for the extra contact hours they normally have to work in order to get through all the oral examinations. In the past this hasn't been an issue, but they are citing workforce agreement and the reduction of their PPA time during those weeks. Does the school have to reimburse 'lost' PPA time?

A It may, in some circumstances, seem reasonable to come to an agreement about offering time in lieu. For example, there may be an argument that additional preparation time is needed for the summer orals, but the staff would have to present a specific and strong case.

Going just on the letter of the workforce agreement, schools do not need to reimburse teachers for 'lost' PPA time, when circumstances are caused by the normal consequences of the tasks related to the curriculum.

Playing down pushy parents role

Q I am in my first headship, having taken up post in September. My governing body has been very supportive from the start, but I am experiencing problems with one of the parent governors. She is very enthusiastic and vocal and she believes she carries the values and views of all the parents who live on her estate - which I now know she does not. Many of her views, which she shares freely with me, directly contradict the ethos I am trying to develop in the school. She appears on the school doorstep uninvited and asks, albeit nicely, to talk to me or a member of staff about anything and everything or indeed to be allowed to sit in on lessons. I know this is not appropriate behaviour but I don't know how to put her off without causing problems.

A You are experiencing a familiar pattern of conduct, which many of your colleague heads will recognise. The best advice is to have a quiet word with the chair of governors and, in the spirit of improving the efficacy of the governing body, request that this particular governor be guided by her more experienced chair in the appropriate behaviours and spheres of influence of governors. Peer pressure from other governors will hopefully stop her from becoming a nuisance.

If this is not enough, perhaps it may be time to have a discussion with the whole governing body about the role of the leadership team and of the governing body and about what is appropriate contact for governors to have with the school.

Need to know

Q Last year we started an investigation on a teacher involving gross misconduct. He was in no way a danger to students - it related to misuse of funds from the departmental budget. Before the investigation could be completed, it was mutually agreed to terminate his employment with the school through a compromise agreement. As there are references to 'confidentiality' in the agreement, are we required or able to respond to a request for information about him from the GTC? While we didn't have evidence to prove he had done wrong, I do believe that any school that is thinking of hiring him should know about the investigation.

A Yes, the school does have an obligation to report 'relevant circumstances' to the GTC which relate to the dismissal of a teacher on grounds of competence - or where dismissal would have occurred, or even been considered, had the teacher not resigned first. A compromise agreement makes no difference to that obligation.

The terms of the agreement and the circumstances leading to it are confidential, but you should inform the teacher that a report on the professional circumstances preceding the agreement has to be reported to the GTC and is required by law.

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