Entitled to equal support
Q I am a headteacher in a large school with a consequently large leadership team. For some time now, one of my deputies has been causing me some anxiety. I personally believe her to be suffering from some kind of nervous stress. This has culminated in her putting a formal grievance to governors about me and my attitude towards her: she is accusing me of bullying. She has an ASCL field officer to support her, which obviously rules out a field officer for me. What help is available to me now?
A You say "obviously rules out a field officer" for you, but this is not the case. You are very much entitled to field officer assistance. ASCL has field officers based around the country, who normally look after their agreed geographical areas.
However, when a case such as yours indicates that two or more field officers are needed in one school or college, then headquarters will allocate a field officer from another area to look after the second member's interests.
The field officers work along the same principles as barristers, in that they are mandated to provide the best possible support to their client, and they will not be party to the other field officer's views. Client confidentiality is of the essence, and we have many cases where such an arrangement has brought about an equitable solution.
Q We have a parent who, due to an ongoing issue with her daughter, has been known to come into school unannounced demanding to speak to myself or the head. We have tried to accommodate her as much as possible. Last week, when neither of us were available, she verbally abused the office staff and refused to leave until I came out to speak with her. We are trying to be supportive but this is beginning to get out of hand.
A It would be unfair to students and staff to try to run a school, or college, around the whim of parents who expect to be able to drop in whenever they wish and speak immediately to a teacher or leadership team member.
The school does not have to respond to demands by parents to be seen at once or to fetch a student; or to allow the parent to wander around the school in search of the child, the teacher or both. It could be difficult to change this parent's expectations at this stage, but telling her firmly but politely that she will need to make an appointment from now on is not unreasonable.
A parent has only limited rights to be on school premises, which can be withdrawn as a result of aggressive behaviour and the parent can be removed and/or banned. Causing a disturbance on or near educational premises is a crime; and repeatedly causing alarm to a person falls foul of the Harassment Act.
Change of ages
Q I understand there are changes coming into effect regarding retirement ages. The retirement age stated on our contracts is 60. If a member of staff is 60 in October, does this mean that we will still be able to retire him at Christmas?
A No. You are referring to the new Regulations on Age Discrimination. Once this takes effect in the autumn, a contract stating a retirement age before 65 will be unlawful and void. You will have to issue new contracts for staff with a revised retirement age.
Help from the hotline
The ASCL hotline is a completely confidential service available to answer members' questions and assist with issues that arise in school.
The questions and answers above are based on real calls to the hotline. To protect confidentiality, scenarios have been anonymised.
If you need advice on a personal or professional issue, call 0116 299 1122 and ask for the hotline officer.
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