Last reviewed 3 March 2019

Nigel Baker highlights some recent developments in the education field.

Recent cases

In Kilraine v Lion Academy Trust UKEAT/0194/17/BA, the claimant was employed as a teacher on a fixed-term contract. This contract came to end when it was not renewed and she was not entitled to notice of termination of her contract. She was advised that there were various positions which she could apply for, but her attempts were unsuccessful. She scored poorly in her assessments and a proper procedure had been carried out. Her claim that her contract had not been renewed because she had made protected disclosures and had made a grievance against her Head were rejected.

It was held in R v Harrison (2018)Ealing Magistrates’ Court that a former Head had acted unlawfully when, as a Deputy Head at a later school, he downloaded large volumes of sensitive personal data relating to the pupils at his former school. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said that he had no lawful reason to process the data on his former students, which was discovered during the course of an IT audit. The defendant had put the information on a memory stick and uploaded this onto the server at his later school. He claimed that he had taken the data “for professional reasons” and said that he had deleted it from his memory stick. The ICO found that he had provided them with no satisfactory explanation for his conduct thus leading to the prosecution. He was found guilty on two counts of breaching s.55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 and was fined £700, with £364 in costs and a victim surcharge of £35. It was stated by the ICO that “children and their parents have the right to expect that their personal data is treated with respect and that their legal right to privacy is adhered to.”

In R v Farmer (2018) Southampton Magistrates’ Court, a former school secretary was found guilty following a trial of assaulting a 15-year-old pupil at the school where she formerly worked. She said that she was trying to help a colleague with a disruptive pupil who had been told to leave the classroom. She apparently hit the boy on his upper arm with the back of her hand. It was accepted that she was a “much loved and trusted” school secretary and that it had been a one-off incident. Nevertheless, on conviction she was ordered to perform 100 hours unpaid community service, pay £620 costs and an £85 victim surcharge. No compensation order was made in favour of the pupil. The defendant had resigned from the school and would not be able to work with children again.

Attacks on Heads

A straw poll of 140 Heads at a recent conference found that about three quarters of them had been physically assaulted in the past year by pupils or parents. Attacks included the use of weapons of various types, being threatened with knives and being struck, kicked and punched. Such attacks and the threat of them have a significant detrimental effect on the health and retention of Heads. In some areas, posts remained unfilled. A range of factors are said to have contributed to the increasing incidence of attacks. These include funding cuts, the reduction of support services, a decline in pupil mental health, a curriculum that failed to engage some pupils and a breakdown in family values. In many situations, the school is expected to instil basic standards of behaviour and norms which should be prevalent at home but are clearly not.

Risk to children

As local authorities (LAs) are aware, the risk to pupils does not stop at the school gates and the school system necessitates large groups of young people leaving the school premises to go home at more or less at the same time each day. The flood of pupils on to the streets are a magnet for a host of undesirable individuals who seek to exploit them for various reasons. Boys and girls are both targeted, often in different ways and for different purposes. Although the supervisory role of school has its limits, vigilance needs to be maintained and there needs to be on-going close co-operation with the police when reports or suggestions of improper contact are received involving pupils and outsiders. A recent report by multi-agencies co-ordinated by Queen Mary University London found that children were mostly at risk of being stabbed to death while walking home from school. According to the research, there has been a significant increase in knife attacks on victims aged under 16 within about three miles of school or home in the two hours after the final school bell. 22% of child stabbings took place between 4pm and 6pm. The implications for schools and the local community are being digested and include better co-ordination between the school, parents and outside agencies, increased coverage of local CCTV and structured staggered out-of-school activities.

Home schooling

Home schooling of children remains a controversial issue and there is some concern that children who receive their education within the home setting can lack the benefit of communal peer association and may not get the same standard of full time institutional education. LAs try to both monitor and supervise homeschooling through informal inquiries but often face practical difficulties. Ultimately, a parent has to ensure that their child receives a full-time education from the age of five, although those providing the education do not need teaching qualifications and neither do they have to follow the National Curriculum. A recent report covering North Yorkshire found that the number of children being schooled at home had risen by 800% in the last five years. When asked what had prompted those parents to take this decision, a common theme was the level of support offered to children with complex needs and also regarding mental health issues, often caused or made worse by bullying at school. Also, some parents said that the school had given them poor advice about what was in the best interests of their child when considering whether to take their child out of school.

Teacher workload and hours

The working conditions of teachers have again come under the spotlight in two recent reports. The findings are significant because they have implications for teachers’ health and they also have impact on teacher recruitment and retention. According to the latest Global Teacher Status Index, based on over 35,000 adults and 5500 serving teachers across 35 countries, British teachers put in one of the longest working weeks in the world. The survey covers not only working hours but also wages, status and respect of teachers. Among a host of findings, it emerged that only 23% of British parents would encourage their child to become a teacher. In the second report by the Teacher Workload Advisory Group established by the Department for Education, it was stated that schools were “drowning in meaningless data” as a result of which teachers were spending less than half their time at work teaching. This has echoes of the criticism leveled against the police service where a multitude of administrative tasks and duties have kept officers desk-bound and not out on patrol in the community.