Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Q+A

Parking liabilities

Q One of our teachers has had the paintwork on his car damaged by a pupil. The car was standing in what is called the teachers' car park, which is not patrolled, but the pupil was seen by another staff member committing the damage. What are the teacher's rights? Could the school be held in any way liable?

A This could possibly be deemed to be criminal damage and if the police are involved the matter could wind up in court and compensation could be sought. If however, the police are not prosecuting the case, then the teacher will have to hope that his own insurance company will cover as much of the costs as his policy decrees. There is, of course, provision for ASCL members for a small recompense for damage to their cars and other unions may well have the same scheme.

If however, the teacher does not wish to pursue his own insurance company because of the possibility of losing his no claims bonus, or if his own union is not able to give him some sort of reimbursement, the school could well make an ex gratia payment.

The 'burgundy book' does make provision for ex gratia payments, but you should be wary of setting such a precedent because of the implications for future cases. Your governors would be well advised to have a policy on the matter to avoid suggestions of unfairness or discrimination.

Drunk and in charge

Q I am the headteacher of an independent grammar school. We recently had an organised school trip to a museum for the year 9 group. When the bus came back, the member of staff in charge virtually tumbled out of the bus smelling of alcohol. Fortunately, there were no repercussions and none of the children or their parents has made any observation on this. I confronted the member of staff the next day but he claimed that he had merely taken some cough medicine and had not drunk any alcohol. What else can I do?

A It could well be too late to do anything now, depending on how long ago this happened and your reasons for inaction so far, having accepting the teacher's explanation.

The best course of action would have been to initiate an investigation immediately after the incident, making contemporaneous notes as you went. You could have gained a better view of your suspicions by having one of the deputies conduct a formal investigation, if necessary interviewing members of staff who accompanied this school trip to see if there was any truth in the teacher's denial.

It is a delicate decision whether your pupils should be questioned, since none of them has made any comment to you and talking to the pupils now could be seen to be unduly provocative.

At this stage, presumably a few days having passed - your best option is perhaps to emphasise the requirements for staff behaviour when accompanying school trips and to ensure that this particular member of staff is well aware that you are making such observations for his attention.

Ignorance ill-advised

Q I am acting head in a comprehensive school. I have just received a very worrying letter from a solicitor, purporting to represent the parents of one of our year 9 boys. This solicitor says that the boy is claiming to have been systematically bullied throughout his career in our school. I know for a fact that this is not the case. Indeed, we have no cases of bullying at this school. Can I ignore the solicitor's letter?

A No you cannot. It is a very brave person who claims that there is no bullying in a school. The school will, I hope, have an anti-bullying policy and I hope that this is shared frequently with pupils and parents.

I would strongly advise you to pass the solicitor's letter with your school anti-bullying policy to the local authority legal department, with the request that they respond in the first place to the parent's solicitor. They will discuss with you the pertinent facts of the accusations and if, as you say, there is nothing to them then all should be well. If however, it is discovered that there has indeed been bullying, this case could well develop further.

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