Teachers' legal rights and responsibilities: A guide for trainee teachers and those new to the profession

Author(s) Jon Berry
Publisher University of Hertfordshire Press
Published 2007
Pages 64
Price 4.99; bulk order discounts available from UH Press
ISBN 9781902806778
Reviewed by Mr James Williams
University of Sussex-Education
Review published 11 September 2008

“In Loco Parentis” is one of the first legal phrases I learned as a trainee teacher. Although I was a science trainee over 20 years ago, health and safety in the lab didn’t kick in to the training for a good few weeks. My first ‘professional studies’ lecture introduced the notion of being in place of a parent. The law is a complex matter and how it applies to teachers is a maze and potential minefield. Just looking at how many statutory orders apply to schools and teachers is enough to fill one with dread. These guides try and simplify this complex issue and provide easy to understand guidance.

As a scientist, for me Teachers’ Legal rights and responsibilities by Jon Berry is a natural starting place. The cover photo of a scientist igniting some chemicals making a cascade of fire intrigued me. There is a lot of misinformation about what is and what is not allowed in science practical lessons. This point is made in the accompanying credit to the cover photo, but curiously, for me, it exemplifies the best and worst practice. A good show of awe and wonder in chemistry with some safe, yet exciting ‘explosions’ and ‘fireballs’ really does engage pupils. But the cover photo shows a teacher with one foot on a stool the other on a bench with the teacher leaning precariously away from the fireball. Page 19 advises that you should not put a chair on a table and stand on it to finish a display. Granted the chair is not on table but to me, the photo is inappropriate to illustrate safe working in a laboratory. That aside, the book is a slim compact overview of the main areas which concern teachers and trainees alike. Topics covered include: Professional duties; Out-of-school activities; Health and Safety; Physical contact with pupils; Discipline; Protecting children from abuse; Competence and disciplinary procedures and Special educational needs. It does a good job of explaining each of these areas concisely and with as little jargon as possible. Illustrated with some cartoons to liven up the text it is a very simple pocket guide, depth is lacking but that is admitted up-front. The ‘further reading’ section just relies on a few websites, no reference to other longstanding existing guides. It isn’t, and never set out to be, comprehensive in its coverage and advice. Teachers and trainees need more to help them should they need to delve into the legal background of any situation they may find themselves in. There is no index, which lets the book down, but the contents can quickly be read and could act as a springboard for other, more detailed books on the subject.

Kim Insley’s book, Teachers and the Law, has a different approach. It looks at major aspects of education and the law, such as the statutory basis of education; the curriculum and assessment; equal opportunities; health and safety and employment. Within each section there is a summary of the law in relation to a whole host of issues such as exclusion, sex education, special educational needs. Where Insley’s book improves on what Berry is saying is the specific reference to Education Acts, other Acts applicable to education and DfES circulars. These margin notes are very useful instant references to further reading and information. Peppered throughout the text are boxed off sections – incidents – that pose real life issues and problems. Teachers and trainees will certainly engage with the incidents but much more could have been made of this feature. The relationship of the law to real life situations and how these are/were resolved is what everybody wants. I found the incidents with no prompt questions a little frustrating and where they are placed a little puzzling. Take incident 4, where a primary pupil loses his coat and mum gets angry and leaves ‘Kennedy’ at the school until the coat is found. Being placed in the middle of the section on curriculum and assessment seems curious. Why was this incident not more closely related to the section on child protection? This is a clear example of ‘in loco parentis’ where a teacher clearly cannot abandon a pupil, but what should the teacher do? At what point does the teacher call for professional help from say social services? Should the teacher take the pupil home? The answers are given, at the end of the chapter, but better positioning, some prompt questions to stimulate thought or discussion would have enhanced this text greatly. The book has a comprehensive list of acts and circulars referred to, a bibliography and a useful index.

Those wanting a more thorough summary of the acts, statutes and circulars that apply to education really need The Bristol Guide, produced by the University of Bristol Document Summary Service. I have used this guide for a number of years to inform me and my trainees of what is and what is not relevant to teachers and the law. It is a dry read, but was never intended as a blockbusting novel. It gives exactly what it says on the cover, a comprehensive summary of the law and its relation to teachers. As such I find it indispensible. It covers pay and conditions; teachers’ professional duties; their duty of care towards pupils; child protection and a whole host of other issues that every teacher should be at least aware of. There is no index, but the contents list is quite comprehensive. Each section has useful references and acts, circulars and statutory requirements and clearly signposted. As such this is by far the most comprehensive and authoritative of the three books. It is a must for teachers, trainees, heads of department and senior leadership teams. It is certainly my first port of call when I need information.

My recommendation would be twofold, Insley’s book makes a useful and readable starting point for questions relating to teachers and the law. The Bristol Guide makes and excellent authoritative companion to this book. Berry’s book, whilst very readable is less satisfactory. If Insley can sort out the problem with the incidents and place prompt questions to accompany them in future editions, it could be just as indispensible as the Bristol Guide.