Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Q&A

Advice from the hotline... 

The ASCL hotline is a completely confidential service available to answer members' questions on issues that arise in school/college. The questions and answers below are based on real calls to the hotline. To protect confidentiality, all scenarios have been anonymised. If you need advice on a personal or professional issue, call 0116 299 1122 and ask for the hotline officer. 

FOI: FYI 

Q: A local newspaper reporter has asked for details of all the knife-related incidents at the school last year. He has demanded this under the Freedom of Information Act. Are there grounds on which I can refuse; or do I have to send him a list, or all the discipline reports? I don't feel the school has anything to hide, but neither do I trust the good intentions of the reporter.

A: You do not have to send a list unless it exists already. The Freedom of Information Act only compels you to provide documents that exist already; not to dig around and create new ones. As far as discipline reports are concerned, they are likely to contain information about individuals which you cannot release under the Data Protection Act. Our advice is to refuse on these grounds. If the reporter wishes to pursue it, he will then have to go to the Information Commissioner for a ruling. By the time a decision comes down, it will hopefully be old news, and so not worth publishing. 

Chair, chair alike 

Q: A new chair of governors was appointed last spring. He and I clashed immediately on a management issue and since then he has made what I feel are unreasonable demands of me and hinted that my position is at risk if I complain. In meetings he contradicts me on policy matters. Recently he took a decision 'on behalf of the governors' when I know he did not consult anyone. The other governors appear to be afraid of him and do not stand up to him, although several have made comments to me in private. What can I do?

A: You were right to call the ASCL hotline. It is possible that you are being overly sensitive or that he has no idea how his behaviour is affecting you or the other governors; but for the good of the school this situation cannot be allowed to continue. Depending on the exact circumstances, the hotline officer may be able to advise you on possible ways to resolve the situation. If you need additional support, an ASCL field officer will be assigned who may be able to conciliate or, if appropriate, ask for intervention from the local authority which may have a duty to intervene. As a last resort, there may be a basis for you to take out a grievance against the chair. Incidentally, it is worth remembering that unless the governing body has formally delegated specific powers to the chair, the chair has no greater powers or position than any other governor. 

Hanging on the telephone 

Q: How long can I keep confiscated property? We have instituted a policy that mobile phones should not be used in school (students can have them, turned off, for emergency purposes) but it is proving a nightmare to implement. I want to make a lesson of this in order to nip it in the bud.

A: You should return confiscated property as soon as possible, either directly to the student or to the parent, depending on what it is. Schools do not have the legal right to confiscate property for longer than is necessary - when dealing with students this is usually interpreted to apply to the school day. Another reason for returning confiscated items in a reasonable time is that, if property goes missing, the school is liable and may have to make financial amends. When any student property is confiscated, we would recommend that it be logged in a register and kept safely under lock and key in a designated area. 

Concerns over mobile mast 

Q: As head of a rural comprehensive school, I have just learned that the farmer's field which abuts the school site has been earmarked for a new mobile telephone mast which, we are told, will have high strength signals in order for the outlying sparse community to receive their appropriate connection. The group of parents who brought this to my attention are vehemently opposed and I am not overly happy either. Do you have any advice? 

A: First and foremost, we would advise raising the matter with the local authority; in particular its legal branch would, we hope, be willing to take whatever action is possible. We do not believe it will do you any favours to be seen as the lone or leading person associated with this campaign. Rather you should be one of several concerned persons coordinating a community strategy to ensure the health and safety of the pupils. The local authority press office may also be able to provide support to raise awareness of the issue. It may be that a strategy can be devised in coordination with the authority to encourage the local press to run an article stating your case in conjunction with letters from concerned parents and residents. Good luck!

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