Your questions answered

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02 November 2016
The start of a new career always brings with it lots of questions. Here are some of the most common questions asked by trainee and newly qualified members.

For more information on a range of key issues, you can also see ATL's help and advice factsheets.

What level of support should I receive from my mentor?

First of all, there is no specific and consistent job description that applies to the role of a mentor and the word is often used to describe many different roles. Sometimes a person who is called a mentor may not even really understand the extent of the responsibilities it implies.

You will have a mentor during your placement as a student. Newly qualified teachers will be assigned an induction tutor for the duration of their induction to provide day-to-day monitoring and support, and they will probably undertake most of the teaching observations and review progress, with some schools also assigning mentors as a source of additional personal support.

What can I do if I feel my mentor is not giving me sufficient support?

As a trainee if you feel you are not being given adequate support, speak to both your HEI tutor and/or the most senior person responsible for initial teacher training and student teachers in your school as early as possible.

If you are newly qualified and have concerns about the level of support you receive, it is also important that you raise any concerns early. ATL appreciates that you may find this difficult, and can provide advice and support on how to raise your concerns.

Is it acceptable to comfort a distressed student by putting an arm around them?

Be extremely cautious when comforting a distressed student with physical contact. Do read, and act in accordance with, any policies the school or college has on this issue. If comforting is necessary (for example if a child is crying uncontrollably), comfort them until their immediate needs are met and cease as soon as they are calm.

Physical comfort should not be given in private and it is generally considered appropriate only for younger children.

Always avoid any contact with a student that could be misconstrued or cause offence.

Find out more.

Should one-to-one contact be avoided?

It is unrealistic for teachers and lecturers to always avoid being alone with students. In some situations (such as music lessons) one-to-one teaching is entirely normal. However, misunderstandings can more easily occur, so be mindful of these general precautions:

  • Notification: colleagues (or, where appropriate, the student's parent/guardian) should, wherever possible, be aware in advance of the lesson or meeting.
  • Location and environment: where possible, avoid locations that could appear clandestine, such as remote areas, closed or locked doors and rooms without windows. Where appropriate, talk to the student with a desk between you, or arrange the environment to avoid unnecessary physical contact.
  • Contact: avoid physical contact unless strictly necessary and, if it is (or becomes) necessary, studiously avoid any contact which could be (mis) construed as sexual.
  • Reporting: if a student becomes emotional or distressed during a one-to-one lesson or meeting, report this promptly and discreetly to a senior colleague.

Find out more.

How should I deal with confidential information from students?

Teachers and lecturers are not legally obliged to inform parents or guardians automatically of confidential disclosures by students (e.g concerning their emotional lives). In accordance with the Gillick judgement and the principles of the Children Act 1989, teachers and lecturers are entitled to make reasonable professional judgements on this issue, recognising that young people are entitled to more control over matters affecting them as they mature.

Schools and colleges should have a policy on confidentiality and you should act in accordance with it. If the matter is highly sensitive, it is appropriate for you to discuss the confidential information with a senior colleague. Remember to inform the student concerned if you decide you have to pass on their confidential disclosure to another person.

Find out more about student confidentiality.

What happens if I take charge of something owned by a student and then I lose it?

Where a teacher or lecturer confiscates (or takes charge of) a student's property, they are responsible for taking reasonable care of it. Schools and colleges should have a policy on handling a student's property, ensuring it is kept securely, there are records of the property being held and there are clear rules on its return within a reasonable time.

If reasonable care is not taken and the property is lost, students are entitled to claim compensation against the school or college. There should be no expectation of the teacher/lecturer reimbursing the cost personally. However, if this is requested, contact ATL for advice.

Find out more about student property.

Am I entitled to refuse to teach a disruptive student?

No. Teachers and lecturers have no formal right to refuse to teach a student. To do so is, strictly speaking, industrial action (which is subject to detailed rules on balloting, notice, etc). Refusal to teach is therefore an 'industrial action' weapon to be used only as a last resort, with careful advice from ATL. A headteacher/principal does have the power to exclude violent or seriously disruptive students, either for a fixed period or permanently (subject to the student's right to appeal).

Find out more about disruptive students.

What sanctions do teachers and lecturers have to discipline students?

Classroom behaviour and discipline are perennial concerns, but are often a major worry for those new to teaching. The school or college should have a behaviour and discipline policy that states clearly what sanctions are available and who has the power to impose them.

Trainee and newly qualified teachers and lecturers should clarify what authority they have to impose punishments, and if there are circumstances in which they must refer an issue to a senior colleague.

The school or college should publish an escalating system of sanctions, usually ranging from removal from classes, loss of privileges (such as having to stay in at break times), reporting to senior staff, contact with parents/guardians, being placed on 'report' and behaviour 'contracts', through to temporary or ultimately permanent exclusions.

When it comes to exclusions, only the headteacher/principal can exclude a student from school or college and she/he must observe a procedure when doing so.

Detentions can be imposed only when this is 'reasonable in all the circumstances'.

Find out more about pupil sanctions and discipline.

Am I entitled to physically restrain a student?

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 enables staff in all schools to use reasonable force to prevent students from hurting themselves or others, from damaging property or from causing disorder. The use of force has two main purposes: to control students or to restrain them.

All schools should have a policy about the use of force to control or restrain students, which you should familiarise yourself with.

Always try to keep calm and consider your own safety. As soon as the incident is over, record exactly what happened with a senior member of staff. Remember ATL is here to advise you if you have any concerns.

Find out more about pupil restraint.

What should I do if I am assaulted?

Assaults do happen, but not frequently. It can be a disturbing and frightening experience that can knock confidence and encourage fear. There are a number of steps outlined below that should be considered following a physical assault:

  • You should be allowed access to a private area where you can sit with a friend. You may wish to go home; if you do, appropriate arrangements including transport should be made.
  • You may have to attend your GP or a hospital, accompanied by a friend, representative or colleague.
  • A medical assessment of any injury should be made as soon as practicable. In cases of visible injuries, it is helpful to obtain photographs, which can be important evidence in any subsequent claim or legal proceedings.
  • Report the incident to the headteacher/ principal.
  • A written record of the assault, any injury and the circumstances leading up to the assault should be made as soon as possible.
  • Depending on the severity and/or effects of an injury, you may be able to claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.
  • Report the incident to the police promptly. You may be reluctant, but it is a requirement if you seek compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) scheme.
  • You should also contact ATL for advice where appropriate on issues such as sick pay, compensation and ATL's assaults insurance for members

Find out more about assaults.

What is my position if an accident happens in my class?

Schools and colleges have a duty to provide appropriate support and training to trainee teachers and lecturers to minimise the risk of accidents. However, even if you are still in training, you have the same obligation as qualified teachers and lecturers to take reasonable care of students.

This is often explained as the care a reasonable parent would exercise, taking account of the numbers, ages, abilities and any special educational and/or medical needs, and the usual standard of behaviour of the students, the location and the risks associated with the activity taking place.

Do check and act in accordance with any policies on this issue.

If an accident does occur, first aid should be called for if necessary and a record made in the school or college accident book as soon as possible. Details should also be sent to ATL.

Keep copies of any accident reports or statements made, since they can be relevant to any subsequent claim for compensation. Fortunately, such claims are almost invariably pursued against the employer (and their insurers) rather than against the individual teacher or lecturer.

In the (most unlikely) event of a claim being raised against a member for an accident to a student, contact ATL.

Find out more about accidents.

Am I responsible for the safety of students if I take them away from the school or college site?

The educational and social value of trips makes such activity an essential part of learning. Nevertheless, a series of high profile incidents plus health and safety requirements have understandably heightened fears about liability and negligence.

Teachers or lecturers taking students on trips or visits have an obligation to take reasonable care of them – taking account of the students' ages, aptitudes, any special educational and/or medical needs, the risks associated with the activity and the environment concerned, which should be considered in the risk assessment(s).

You should follow the school/college procedures for off-site activities. If an accident happens, any claim for compensation is highly likely to be brought against the employer, who is vicariously liable for the actions and omissions of its employees.

Find out more about off-site trips.

Should I give first aid to students?

Surprisingly, the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 only require employers to have first aiders to deal with employees, not others such as students. Nevertheless, it is recommended that there should be provision of first aid for students and visitors to the school or college.

Schools and colleges should therefore have clear and published procedures for dealing with first aid. First aid should normally be administered only by a qualified first aider. However, if an emergency arises in the absence of a first aider, the 'appointed person' should be asked to take charge. Though not a fully trained first aider, an appointed person can perform certain emergency procedures such as resuscitation, provided they have received training. In the absence of a first aider or appointed person, teachers and lecturers are entitled to use their best endeavours to protect the health and welfare of students in their charge.

Although there is a risk of liability if the first aid was to go wrong, in practice the risk is very small. To date, we have heard of no case in which school or college staff have been successfully sued for compensation for giving inappropriate first aid in good faith to deal with an emergency.

Find out more about first aid.

Am I responsible for administering medication to students?

School and college staff are not obliged to give medication to or to supervise a student taking medication unless it is a term of their contract.

Primary responsibility rests with parents/guardians who should inform the school or college promptly of the student's medical needs.

If the administration of medication or supervision of a student taking their medicine during the school or college day and/or during activities off site is required, appropriate safeguards should be in place. These include a written agreement with the parent/guardian and an agreed procedure for dealing with any medical emergency.

Teachers and lecturers who administer medication should therefore be treated as volunteers. It is reasonable for your employers to confirm in writing that their insurance arrangements fully indemnify staff who volunteer. Those who do so must be given appropriate training and information beforehand. It is advisable for schools and colleges to have written procedures for managing and administering medication to students.

Find out more about administering medication to students.

What should I do if furniture needs to be moved in a classroom?

Unfortunately, manual handling operations – lifting, carrying, pushing or moving a heavy object or person by hand or bodily force – are a major source of injury at work. Lifting anything even moderately heavy in the wrong way can result in strain or injury, especially to the back – one of the main causes of sickness absence.

ATL therefore advises you to exercise caution and to avoid lifting or manoeuvring heavy or awkwardly shaped loads, such as desks or filing cabinets.

Any injury should be recorded promptly in the accident book and you should retain a copy of it.

Find out more about manual handling.

As a newly qualified teacher, what should I do if I am unwell and can't get to work?

Newly qualified teachers in maintained schools in England and Wales are entitled to full pay for 25 working days of sick leave and, after completing four calendar months' service, half pay for 50 additional days. These entitlements increase with years in service.

If you are working in an academy, free school or independent school, you will need to check your contract to see what sick leave you are entitled to.

You are entitled to self-certificate for seven calendar days of absence due to ill health. This means that you don't need to obtain a sickness absence certificate. If you are ill for more than seven calendar days, you will need to give your headteacher a 'fit note' (normally obtained from your GP), stating the reason for your absence and the projected duration of sick leave.

The school should have a sickness absence policy that outlines procedures for sick leave. Keep your headteacher informed whenever you suffer illness that requires sick leave. Always ring the school as soon as you know you will not be able to attend, or, if you cannot, arrange for someone to call on your behalf. The reason for your absence should be treated as confidential by your headteacher.

If you feel able to suggest work for your class(es) this will be appreciated but you are not under any obligation to do this. Many schools have contingency plans in place in the event of staff sickness.

Find out more about sick leave.

What should I do if I suspect child abuse?

All teachers owe a duty of care to their students and colleagues. An important aspect of this duty is to take reasonable steps to safeguard and promote students' health, safety and welfare. This is particularly important in the area of child protection; all children have the right to protection from abuse and exploitation.

Find out what the procedures are for dealing with suspected abuse, and follow these. As soon as you suspect neglect or any form of abuse, talk to the designated teacher with responsibility for child protection. Do not wait to gather more evidence of abuse; it is always better to act sooner rather than later.

Find out more about safeguarding.

Should I use Facebook or Twitter?

Although social networking sites can provide a valuable learning resource and a way of keeping in touch with friends and family, there is a need for some important checks and balances. These include:

  • acting strictly in accordance with the school/college's IT policy
  • keeping contact with students within a strictly educational context
  • controlling who sees your details through privacy settings
  • being aware of photos posted that you appear in
  • checking your content regularly
  • remembering there's a growing trend for schools and colleges to access social networking sites before interviewing job applicants.

Find out about using social media.

As a student, if my school or college undergoes an inspection, will my lessons be observed by inspectors?

Inspections tend to be brief and tightly focused, and inspectors will discuss with a headteacher which lessons they need to see to get a picture of the school or college.

If an inspector should find themselves with a student teacher, they will apply their criteria with regard to the experience and training of the teacher or lecturer being observed. Whether you are a student or not, you are entitled to feedback and this should be given with sensitivity to status.

Find out more about inspection.

As a student, if I'm observing a teacher or lecturer working with a class I will eventually take over and the class is not behaving as I would wish, should I intervene?

ATL would advise you not to intervene. On occasions like this, you are present to observe, learn and note. However, you should definitely discuss what you observed with the teacher afterwards to establish how much of what you saw was actually noticed, and the reasons why the teacher managed the class that way.

Find out more about inspection.

What can I expect in terms of observation as a newly qualified teacher?

Newly qualified teachers can expect to be observed at regular intervals throughout the induction period, and you should meet with your reviewer to review the teaching that has been observed. Observations should be carried out in a supportive fashion with professionalism, integrity and courtesy; be evaluated objectively and reported accurately and fairly; and take account of the particular circumstances that may affect performance on the day.

Find out more about observation.