Know your rights!

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By Sue Cowley — Educational author and trainer

How much is ‘reasonable force’? When does copyright run out? And just what is the deal with pay? Get the low-down on your rights

Classroom setting

Just what is reasonable force?

Public service workers, such as teachers and nurses, are often placed on the front line when it comes to dealing with potentially tricky situations. Because our work involves constant contact with people, it is important that we understand the legal issues that might arise. School staff should know how to keep both themselves, and the children they work with, safe from harm. We also need to know what our rights and responsibilities are in areas such as pay, copyright, and health and safety.

When a legal issue arises at school, your first port of call should be your union. A union will give you impartial advice and vital support, for instance if a legal prosecution takes place. Although many teachers rarely need to use their union in such a negative situation, there are many other benefits of membership; unions offer excellent opportunities for professional development, for example.

The situation as it relates to the rights of school staff is constantly changing. The senior management at your school must keep you abreast of the latest developments that concern you. They should ensure that you have the relevant information and training you need to protect both yourself and your children from avoidable difficulties and dangers.

Discipline

Where there is a situation of serious indiscipline, it is often the case that staff react instinctively to protect their children and to prevent harm. While this natural reaction is commendable, it is important that we understand what we can and cannot do within the law. Teachers (and other authorised staff) are entitled to use ‘reasonable force’ to stop a child committing a criminal act, disrupting school order and discipline, or causing damage or injury. Examine what ‘reasonable force’ means before you encounter a situation where you might have to use it. The Government circular 10/98 offers very useful reading in this area (see ‘Useful websites’ on page 20).

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