Boy's death may lead to risk too far

6th January 2006 at 00:00
All eyes are on West Lothian to produce the "gold standard" of absence notification policies in the wake of the murder of primary pupil Rory Blackhall. Although its proposals to introduce playground supervision and automated text-messaging systems to contact parents are still work in progress, they indicate the direction that others may follow.

Consultations in West Lothian have already thrown up issues that will require further thought and discussion among primary headteachers and school boards. For instance, what happens if a pupil who has been supervised in the playground then runs out of the gate before the school bell? What about lunchtime, when many pupils in senior primary classes are allowed to leave the school grounds? And is placing an onus on a primary head to carry out an instant risk assessment should the school fail to reach the parent of an absent pupil going a step too far?

All heads carry out risk assessments in their heads every day. Is Johnny likely to be playing truant? Is it not strange that Jeannie's mother hasn't phoned to say she is ill? She's normally such a responsible parent. Does this case require a call to an already overstretched social work department? In the current blame and compensation culture, will the automatic reaction be to press the panic button, just in case?

We are moving into dangerous territory. While West Lothian's proposals are eminently sensible, their implementation six months earlier would not, it appears, have prevented Rory's death. We must keep a common-sense perspective in this highly-charged arena.

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