Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

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.

Best actions compromised

Q: I am a bursar who recently left my employment at an independent school. I received a termination payment and agreed reference in return for which I signed a compromise agreement. I have now discovered that when I applied for a new position the head telephoned my former head who told him that if I had not resigned I would have been dismissed for incompetence. Unsurprisingly, I did not get the job. What can I do?

A: A well drafted compromise agreement should contain wording to the following effect: "Any oral reference will be entirely consistent with the terms and spirit of the reference attached to this agreement."

But even if it does not, your former employer has so fundamentally departed from the terms and spirit of the compromise agreement that it is likely a court will award you compensation for breach of contract in any event.

ASCL will write a letter before action to your former employer, claiming compensation for loss of earnings, subject to your duty to mitigate by finding alternative employment if possible, and if necessary issue court proceedings on your behalf.

Is it worth shouting the odds?

Q: Our local newspaper has a reputation of being anti-schools, and our school in particular. It has, this morning, published an article in which I am accused of walking up the street shouting at a pupil. This is totally incorrect; it was another member of staff who shares my surname. I now wish to sue the paper and want to know if ASCL will fund the case.

A: Tempting as this may be, if you try to sue this paper, the incident will turn from a one-day story into a national saga and, even if you win, people will only remember it as the case where you shouted at a pupil - whether you did or you did not. It would also somewhat unfairly drag your colleague into the media spotlight to no advantage. We would strongly advise you not to think of defamation, as it simply prolongs the agony all round.

In this case, our advice is to seek the head's support in contacting the paper and asking for a suitable retraction. If applicable, you may find it helpful to go through the local authority media or press officer, or indeed the link officer.

A call to check data protection

Q: A member of staff has complained that the head of department contacted her at home on the weekend to discuss arrangements for an upcoming school trip. Her objection is that it is a breach of the Data Protection Act for him to have been given her number.

A: Data may only be held and used for purposes that are declared when it is collected. It is difficult to imagine why the school would collect home telephone numbers and not make them available to school management to contact staff. However in hindsight, it would have been as well to make this clear at the time the information was collected.

A separate issue is the nature of the call, depending on the content, which could give rise to a complaint of harassment, but there is no question of that in this case.

Musical chairs

Q: We have to make staffing cuts and are offering voluntary redundancy. The sole music teacher has volunteered. Can I accept his redundancy and then appoint another full-time music teacher?

A: Almost certainly not. This would not be redundancy. Redundancy applies when the need to carry out work of a particular kind has ceased or diminished. Your need for music teaching has not ceased or diminished. However, if it is possible to redeploy another member of staff who is employed in another curriculum area which is shrinking to teach music it might be acceptable.

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