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Policy made on the spot

Margaret Glentworth on how schools feel the fallout of family disputes. Sarah Jane (not her real name) had only just started at infants school. In the second week of term a previously unknown man appeared early at the end of the school day to collect her, saying he was her father. It was Sarah Jane's obvious reluctance which triggered her teacher's doubts. But what could the teacher do? She wanted to ask the head but could not leave the class or send one of her reception pupils for help. There were no other parents there yet.

Taking a deep breath the teacher stepped between man and child and, trying to sound as reasonable as she could, explained that the school had a strict policy on releasing children only to those they knew; she was sure he understood the need for this.

She was about to ask if he would mind going to the office to establish who would be collecting Sarah Jane in future when her mother appeared at the door and demanded, "What's going on?" The father, who was under a court injunction preventing him from seeing Sarah Jane, ran off.

The head phoned the police who took the matter very seriously. When last heard from, they were still seeking to interview the man and the school was drawing up a formal policy based largely on that invented on the spot by Sarah Jane's teacher.

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