Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Q&A

Frosty reception

Q I am the bursar of a school in the north of England with responsibility for health and safety. In the winter the pavements leading up to our gates can get very icy particularly first thing in the morning. I am aware that some parents have already voiced concerns about the state of the pavements. If somebody was to slip and fall, could the school be held responsible?

A If the footpath in question is outside of the school gates, it is highly unlikely that the school would be responsible. The highway authority on the other hand may well have a duty of care to the highway users which of course includes pedestrians. Clearly in icy weather the highway authority has an onerous responsibility and the law does not expect it to be able to keep every inch of every footpath clear of ice and snow.

However, case law has indicated that where there is a particular hazard such as an area of the footpath where one might expect heavy use in the morning when it is likely to be icy, then the highway authority has a duty to ensure that it is made safe by the application of grit or salt. If you are concerned about students' and other pedestrians' safety, you could report the offending pavements to either local council or the highway authority, depending on who maintains the roads around the school.


Leaving duty free

Q I am deputy head of a school which is shortly to be amalgamated into a new academy. I am 58 years old and am seriously considering an offer of voluntary redundancy instead of a transfer. Is it correct that the first £30,000 of any redundancy payment will be made tax free?

A It is a common misconception that the first £30,000 of all redundancy payments are tax free. In actual fact, it depends on the way that the payment is structured.

If the payment includes an amount in lieu of notice, often referred to as PILON, then great care must be taken. If the contract of employment specifically provides that the employer has the right to make a payment in lieu of notice, this is a contractual obligation and therefore must be paid net of tax. If on the other hand, the contract of employment does not reserve this right, then the payment is made as compensation for breach of contract and can be made gross.

If the redundancy money does not include payment in lieu of notice and is simply compensation for loss of office, then generally speaking it can be made tax free.

One thing is certain: this is a complicated issue. For specific advice on your particular situation, contact ASCL on 0116 299 1122 and ask for the hotline officer.


Letter to disregard

Q I am the headteacher of a large independent school. One of the parents has written to the governing body criticising a number of my decisions and essentially saying that I am not qualified or experienced enough to run a school of this size. I have been told that I may have a claim of defamation against the parent. What is the definition of defamation?

A First of all, we would caution you to think carefully before going down this route.

Defamation is any published article which seeks to disparage individuals and companies in trade, profession or business. It certainly sounds as if the letter in this case is potentially defamatory, since it casts doubt on your professional abilities and qualifications. However, if it has gone only to the governors it is unlikely that a court would accept that it has been published.

ASCL's advice in all but the most extreme cases to avoid taking action over probable defamation: cases are notoriously slow to process, expensive to prosecute and usually highly publicised. Even if you win the case, the likely media attention could do greater damage to your reputation in the community than any defamatory letter.


Help from the hotline

The ASCL hotline is a completely confidential service available to answer members' questions and
assist with issues that arise.

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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