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What do independent schools owe to children? WWYD?

(25 Posts)
AngelaLans Fri 05-Dec-14 13:25:35

We're leaving our independent school at the end of the term bc a very good, very experienced teacher in year 6 went off on extended leave, and school replaced this person with someone with 3 terms' experience (and non qualified), who, by all accounts, spends most of their time telling children off for talking (so doesn't appear to be able to manage a classroom - of ten!), and we have had no new maths work (everything has been review of what was done previously) and homework is self-contradictory and difficult to understand, spelling words are occasionally misspelled, etc. We were far from impressed, and school thought the provision was suitable, so with this disagreement we gave notice.

Now it comes to my attention that a teacher at the school who went in to look after the class when the teacher was out looked in the childrens' books and became very alarmed. She found that there was nowhere near the amount of writing that should be done (she has taught year 6 formerly), nowhere near the maths, and the science was being done poorly, without completing sections before moving on, etc. She said the homeworks were far too extensive and were used to catch up where the teacher did not manage to cover entire areas in class. She went to the head to voice her concerns about this supply teacher and was basically put in her place saying she had no business looking in the childrens's books and that this was none of her business.

I know all of this off the record as the teacher does not want to risk her job, but needless to say I am extremely upset and having had to pay fees for this term and my child's time having been wasted as such, I have gone from angry to apoplectic. I want to get my fees back and feel we have been swindled. Do I have any options? What would you do?

EdithWeston Fri 05-Dec-14 13:31:04

Your options may be limited as you're talking about year 6.

Is there a head of year or heads of the specific subjects, or director of studies you can raise your concerns with?

When do students typically move on from this school, or does it have a senior school they automatically transfer to?

Hakluyt Fri 05-Dec-14 13:32:34

Surely it's caveat emptor?

EdithWeston Fri 05-Dec-14 13:34:17

BTW: You won't be able to get fees back unless you can demonstrate there is no remedy within the contract, and even then you may have to go through the courts. You need to make sure you have a copy of the full contract with the school, and a copy of the grievance procedure, and follow in full and to the letter. Make a record of everything (and email them an account of conversations just after they happened, so it is as complete as possible).

AngelaLans Fri 05-Dec-14 13:48:35

The head of junior school is the one who put this arrangement in place to replace the teacher who is on leave - there is no one in the junior school who is a director of studies or any of that. We went to the head of the whole school, and he is the one who said the provision is adequate. I don't think there is anyone else to go to.

How can I follow the grievance procedure when we are leaving due to the situation? I could see making a grievance if we were staying because the point of the grievance would be to remedy the situation, but I would really like our fees returned. I will have another look at the contract, but I am sure the only thing I could allege is breach of duty of care or something nebulous like that.

EdithWeston Fri 05-Dec-14 13:53:24

What are your plans for your DC's school transfer, and do you have another prep lined up?

Also, if I read your post correctly, as the staff member disappeared since the start of term, exactly how long has the replacement been in situ, and how long until the either the original staff member returns or a permanent replacement is appointed?

You can leave at any time you like, but if you haven't followed the grievance procedure, you will also be liable for fees in lieu of notice.

AngelaLans Fri 05-Dec-14 14:04:25

Yes, we have another school lined up to finish year 6.

The staff member has been gone this whole term following her having attended the first fortnight. She is expected back three mornings a week next term, but there is some concern she will not stay, although that is another "off the record" type bit of information as there are many parents in this school that are friends with teachers, etc.

When the supply teacher was introduced we had to dig around to get details about them, as the school was not forthcoming about the lack of experience and qualification. We went to the head and said we wanted to leave as we felt things had materially changed, and we were not willing to risk year 6. He asked if we could give him some time to try and see if he could improve things, and after some time when it became clear nothing was being done, we wrote back to say we wanted to give notice, and that we would appreciate that he made an exception given that the provision had materially changed and we had not given notice earlier because he had led us to believe that the provision would be improved. He responded that the provision was fine, and that given the circumstances he would extend our notice period, and we gave notice within that period, so we are fine there.

AngelaLans Fri 05-Dec-14 14:12:36

The contract clause specifies reasonable skill and care, and also states that they reserve the right to make changes to any aspect of the school. Now presumably not all changes fall under reasonable skill and care - for example if they replaced teachers with monkeys? The question then is whether such an inexperienced and unskilled teacher, along with a scant amount of work completed by the children shows that reasonable skill was not taken?

EdithWeston Fri 05-Dec-14 14:19:06

I think a court case to get some money back is going to be hugely stressful for uncertain outcome. Your case sounds pretty weak, for it doesn't sound as if you have gone through the full grievance procedure.

Especially as the first term in yr6 is often revision based (for benefit of children sitting competitive 11+ or pretests as the peak season for them is so close). I'd be just as worried about a school that was still teaching a lot of new maths at this point tbh.

Ladymuck Fri 05-Dec-14 14:23:53

So has he essentially waived some of your notice period?

To be honest, there are good teachers and bad teachers in every school. Trying to fill a year 6 position after the start of the school year is incredibly difficult. What age range is the school, and in what way are you viewing year 6 to be essential? In this area a lot of children transfer to senior school at the end of year 6, so entrance exams will be done in from September to January, so in one sense you have just finished the most critical term.

In my limited experience of this sort of situation it is almost entirely impossible to do much with a poor supply teacher unless you have a decent one to replace then with. It has usually been the case that the next teacher had ensured that the class has caught up. Obviously not ideal in an exam period.

I'm assuming that your transfer to senior school isn't at year 7 as otherwise this is an odd time to move?

AngelaLans Fri 05-Dec-14 14:32:04

It's not a prep school, and as far as I know, not a single child is sitting those sorts of exams. It's more a quirky, very individualistic type of school, which has quite a few children of average intelligence with mild needs, and a fair amount of giftedness - they very much sell themselves as meeting the needs of each individual child (again, 10 in a class), and so for my child, going over and over maths that is simple really isn't meeting his needs, and they had been alerted to this over and over. This was just the final straw. And remember a teacher in the school looked at the childrens' work and was so concerned she approached the head of juniors to say that there was a problem.

But you are right in that I cannot cite this without getting a teacher who told me this (she said that if her child were in that class she would be very worried) in trouble, and so there is some weakness if I cannot rely on that sort of thing. I guess I was thinking that since I was told they are doing maths every day, and there were 12 weeks of class, and my child tells me that they do about one page each lesson, so there should be about 60 pages of maths, but there are about 15 pages, actually (this is one of the things the other teacher was referring to) would show that they did not do the work they were supposed to.

But I don't understand the whole grievance thing. It makes sense if you are at a school and you decide there is a problem and you are staying there - you follow the procedure. If you choose to leave, however, why would you initiate a grievance? The point of the grievance procedure is to get some formal review, and even a board of governors review. It doesn't look remotely like it has anything to do with refunding fees - just adjudicating on policy issues and functional things at the school. Our school doesn't say a thing about fees being the sort of thing that come under review when one files a grievance.

Ladymuck Fri 05-Dec-14 14:39:32

Usually any form of legal or appeal process will want to see that you have followed the school's formal complaint policy first. Otherwise parents just pull their kids out of school and sue the school at a point when the school governors aren't even aware that the parents are unhappy. Usually a grievance process will ensure that the governors are alerted to your complaint and have a chance to remedy it.

If they haven't had a chance to either investigate or remedy it prior to you giving notice, because you haven't filed a formal complaint, then it would be hard to see how you will be able to obtain any form of damages from them?

AngelaLans Fri 05-Dec-14 14:41:47

Yes, the head has waived some of the notice period "given the circumstances".

We were considering moving our child next year to a different independent secondary, so now we are moving two terms early, to the new junior school, and next autumn he will go up to the senior school at the place we had already been considering.

I find the year before the transition to secondary is important, and a lot of the local parents seem to agree. Perhaps it is because we are in a somewhat relaxed junior school, and people are not taking 11+ etc., but next year the expectations will be much greater, and they do not seem to be preparing the children for the move by doing very easy work, and less of it.

I appreciate that it can be difficult to replace a teacher and that school was in a hard position. Do we just have to accept that some teachers are unmitigated crap and suck it up? Is there any point at which it becomes so bad that it is not okay? We have had some distinctly fantastic teachers, and some very ordinary ones (and we didn't ask for fees back) - this is the first one that is beyond wretched and a waste of time and money. Remember another teacher has alerted school that things are very bad in the year 6 class, and they told her to mind her own business.

AngelaLans Fri 05-Dec-14 14:48:04

With regards to the grievance, I understand the theoretical point, but I wonder how it works. I wasn't happy leaving my child in such a bad situation - what if we filed a grievance and the governors decided it was fine? I mean, the head thinks it is fine, so maybe they would agree, and then it becomes a problem to leave for the last term, etc. We think we are paying for a premium education, but maybe for them just having a warm body in front of the class is good enough. Meanwhile, my child is missing out on actual learning (that he wants). Although I do understand it is a problem that parents pull a child out and the governors don't have a chance to do anything, I guess I thought the governors trust the appointed head to make these sorts of judgement calls, and I am sceptical that unless you can show something egregious (like bodily harm) that anyone is going to care too much. The head didn't.

Ladymuck Fri 05-Dec-14 14:53:03

But without a grievance the governors are simply going to say that you didn't give them a chance to remedy the situation. You have a solution that works for you, you haven't been asked for an extra term's fees. You may not have received good value for money for this term's fees, but most schools will argue that education is not provided on that sort of basis (otherwise no parents would pay for the final term of year 11 or 13 as their children are essentially on study leave or taking exams and celebrating the end of exams for the majority of the term).

I would simply throw your energies into ensuring that your children are ready for their mid year move. Year 6 does help them grow up a lot, but not by doing 60 odd pages of maths per term ime. But is does depend on what sort of senior school they're going to etc.

LIZS Fri 05-Dec-14 15:05:22

Honestly ? I'd agree with LM take the offer and move on . One term's indifferent teaching isn't likely to damage long term prospects but the way the school handle it is key. We had similar with Geography in Yr 5. Teacher went off on long term sick soon after Autumn term started, cover was actually an inexperienced science/pe teacher although still not certain if PGCE qualified. We discovered half way through the year that books felt light, raised with with academic deputy head, then head and a subject specialist teacher was quickly drafted in. It turned out we were simply the first to voice concerns. By year 6 you are just marking time before moving on anyway , doing so a term or two early may well work to your advantage socially when they move on. As they aren't due to sit exams it simply isn't worth dragging out.

AngelaLans Fri 05-Dec-14 15:13:11

That all sounds right. We would have gone elsewhere if we knew this was how poorly school was going to handle the situation, and we have been talking about our concerns since the announcement about the supply teacher was made. We thought he would be watched closely, but I guess not. Now we hear they might make him an offer to make him permanent, so I take from that they are not concerned, and we are doing the best thing by getting out. I did have a quick look at some solicitors' websites and it does seem clear that this is the expected route, to make a formal complaint. I wish I had asked earlier, or knew about the process, but I guess school is not going to invite me to make a grievance. :-)

Samantha28 Fri 05-Dec-14 15:19:16

You really REALLY do not want to litigate for the amount of money you are talking about -I'm guessing less than £5k? Just move on .

I'm being pragmatic, not saying that what has happened is right .

AngelaLans Fri 05-Dec-14 15:29:52

Yes, I see your point about the amount involved, especially as we would need legal advice. I think because we struggle to pay fees, this feels like a big loss to us to have paid and gotten NOTHING in return, and especially after we raised the issue immediately. They don't care and the practical thing is to just move on. Lots of people know about what happened, so perhaps it will affect how prospective parents in the community view them. And two other families are considering leaving, so maybe they will pay the price in the end.

Samantha28 Fri 05-Dec-14 16:27:55

I appreciate that £5k is a lot to lose. And I understand why you feel aggrieved. But you are unikely to win much by taking legal action for such an amount .

The best you could hope for is that after a period of negotiation ( and lots of legal fees ) , the school make you some kind of offer. Usually most of it is swallowed up in your costs - the amount you don't get back from the other side- and your other nonmonetary costs, such as time off work, stress and hassle .

Remember if you go to court and lose, you pay any award plus your costs plus their costs. . It's a risky business .

Caveat - These are general comments about litigation,BTW, not on the merits of otherwise of your case. Because I'm not a lawyer, I dont know all the details and I don't even know which country you live in .

LIZS Fri 05-Dec-14 16:48:22

but you aren't "losing" 5k , that money has already gone and presumably your dc has benefitted form other classes and activities this term.

Clobbered Fri 05-Dec-14 16:52:36

Write it off to experience and move on. You won't get any fees back, fat chance, I'm afraid, and you could end up throwing good money after bad.

MinceSpy Fri 05-Dec-14 17:24:59

You directly purchase your children's education so have the power to take your business elsewhere. Both you and the school have to honour a legally binding contract. You've asked to be released from the contract and take your business to another education provider and the headteacher was happy to oblige. Your children had the benefit of a terms education and now they are going elsewhere, let it go.

MillyMollyMama Fri 05-Dec-14 19:58:50

I cannot imagine only 10 in a class for year 6. Sounds financially dodgy to me. You can never make an assumption that an independent school is capable of getting good teachers. What teacher, contracted to teach year 6 suddenly goes off on extended leave? What is that anyway? Sounds like a falling out and Head has been unable to recruit at short notice. This would not be my idea of a good school. I would move on, quickly.

Soveryupset Sat 06-Dec-14 09:18:43

I would agree with the others to just move on. I do understand why you feel aggrieved and it is a sign of a poor school.

My daughter's teacher had a serious accident and as a result the school xoukd only secure 2 supply teachers job sharing. I felt really concerned but I must say the teaching has been excellent - I think in these siruations our school has a system to closely monitor what is happening in the classroom. The supply are also expected to set the usual homework and mark it.

In my children's old school when they had supply teaching the children were just babysat. It's all down to the leadership to ensure standards are kept - even though teaching styles and quality can be variable it should still be adequate.

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