Check and check again

17th January 2003 at 00:00
IT will undoubtedly have come as a surprise to most observers, in these child protectionist times, that pupils can be pulled out of schools when their families move away from an area and no formal mechanisms exist to check on what has happened to them. It has once again taken a tragedy, the murder of Inverness schoolgirl Danielle Reid, to throw the spotlight on inadequacies in the child care and welfare system.

Highland Council has come in for unfair criticism in this case for doing no more than following accepted practice elsewhere: when a child leaves a school, it is up to the receiving school to trigger requests for the pupil's profile. The fact that there may never have been an intended school for Danielle in the Manchester area, as her mother is said to have assured her Inverness primary (nor indeed a forwarding address), makes this hopefully a rare case but shows clearly that there is a loophole that needs to be plugged.

The question is how. Highland will no doubt have its own internal lessons to take on board. The Scottish Executive is to be commended for declaring its willingness to learn any wider lessons. But it is not prepared to take action until court proceedings are concluded. The necessary liaison between authorities and schools, however, is one of general application and a review need not hang on the outcome of a particular case.

If no statutory solution is possible (and legislation would have to be on a UK basis to cover cases such as this), then education authorities should tighten their own procedures by carrying out more regular checks with families until contact has been made with their children's new school. In these dysfunctional times, however, we have to recognise that this will not be the last tragedy of its kind.

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