Margaret Lenton

Litigation, litigation, litigation

Margaret Lenton, headmistress of a leading grammar school, says that the time and money she wastes on legal action would be far better spent on teaching

I love my job as a head teacher. It is really satisfying to be responsible for young people and to guide them in realising their potential. But sadly my time is increasingly occupied by lawyers and I have to divert an ever growing proportion of my budget away from staff, books and equipment towards defending and insuring against legal actions.

Head teachers do, on occasion, have to exclude pupils. Parents are sometimes reluctant to believe that their child can do any wrong. In one case, a parent having chosen my school, which advertises discipline and strong sanctions, stated that discipline should not be imposed in any circumstances. He complained that there was nothing wrong with his son using school computers to download pornography, but that it was wrong for me to impose a temporary exclusion on his son for doing so. The parent brought in his solicitor, which, under our insurance policy, meant that we too had to seek and pay for legal advice.

During the governors’ appeal hearing, the solicitor questioned my judgment in detail and the Department for Education guidance was gone through, line by line. This, in effect, places me in the dock personally, and the guidance is treated not as advice but as a mandatory instruction.

Worse still are permanent exclusion conferences. No head teacher takes this final sanction without very careful thought. The pupil to be excluded has the right of appeal to the governors and then to an independent panel. In the latter case, panel members, who have no knowledge of the school, have the right to second-guess the decision of the head teacher and the governors. In two cases my decisions have been overruled by panels that had little understanding of current education.

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