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EVERYDAY LAW: Teacher refusal of tasks

Cecil McCarthy

EVERYDAY LAW: Teacher refusal of tasks

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IN LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE I set out all of the duties of a principal of a public school as outlined in sections 15 to 18 of the Education Regulations.
Those who have researched the writings on management of schools will tell you that it is generally accepted that effective schools are mainly the result of effective principals.
The leadership of the principal is crucial to the success of the school.
Perhaps it is for the above reason that the legislative framework entrusts so much authority to the principal.
One of the major tasks of the principal is to supervise the teachers of the school.
In addition, Regulation 17 of the Education Regulations provides that every principal “must allocate duties to staff”. This power is subject to the policy of the minister and the general directions of the board.
Regulation 18(f) provides that the principal “shall allocate duties among the teachers in order to make the best use of the special aptitudes of each teacher”.
Statutory duty
In order to support the above provisions the very first duty of a teacher (as spelt in the Regulations) in a public school is to “follow the directions of the principal of the school and carry out the duties assigned or delegated to him by the principal.” (Regulation 23(a) )
It is also noteworthy that in defining the duties of the Deputy Principal, a Senior Teacher and a Head of Department, the Regulations specifically provides that those duties are in addition “to his normal teaching duties”.
Therefore subject to the Act and the Regulations all teachers are subject to the supervision of the Principal who can allocate duties to them.  Indeed, the Regulations mandate the principal to allocate those duties.
I have been asked whether there are any circumstances in which a teacher can refuse to carry out the instructions of the principal. This is a reasonable question for which the answer is clearly that the teacher can refuse to carry out instructions if the order of the principal is unlawful or unreasonable.  What is not a lawful and reasonable instruction is not always very clear.
For example, you could not insist that a teacher who objects to teaching religious knowledge on the basis of religious grounds teach that subject. Neither do I believe that you could insist that a teacher teaches a subject that is wholly outside of his sphere of competence.  
Nor could you insist that a teacher teaches after school hours!
However, where you have been directed to teach a subject within your area of competence you are tempting fate if you opt to ignore the instructions.
A wilful refusal to obey instructions constitutes one of the most serious examples  of misconduct and can, in some circumstances, lead to dismissal.
An interesting case relating to the refusal to teach a class in the context of industrial action is the English case of Royle vs Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council, 1984.  In that case, a teacher refused, as part of a campaign of industrial action, to take classes different from those which he had been previously responsible or to accept additional children into his classes. In this case the teacher refused to accept five extra pupils as ordered by the principal forthe six-month period of the industrial action.
Pay deduction
The High Court held that a proportionate deduction of 5/36th of the teacher’s salary was a reasonable estimate of the damages incurred. This was based on the number of children excluded by the teacher from the class.
The council had withheld the entire salary of the teacher and had intimated that he would not be paid for the period that he did not carry out instructions.
Mr Royle had sued for his unpaid salary.
The court held that employers had accepted imperfect performance of the teacher’s contract of employment by allowing him to continue teaching and had therefore impliedly affirmed it. They could not therefore refuse to pay him for this period.
On the other hand, the plaintiff was entitled to his full salary only if he performed his contractual duties.   Since he only partially performed his duties, then he could only be paid for that partial performance.
It should be noted that the teacher’s action in not teaching the five pupils was in support of industrial action called by the union.
It was nonetheless a breach of contract.
It should not, however, be compared with a situation where the refusal was done outside of industrial action.
Moreover, there is a competing  line of authority which suggests that workers in the above situation are not entitled to pay at all.  Ultimately, this will be a decision for our courts if they are given an opportunity to pronounce on the subject.
  Cecil McCarthy is a Queen’s Counsel.
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