Up close and personal

22nd May 2015 at 01:00

A recent blog could be a sign of things to come as the Scottish government's "named person" legislation kicks in.

The posting, written by an irate mother of a 13-year-old in Aberdeen, complains about a nurse - not the usual school nurse - having a "little chat" with her daughter.

The questions the girl was asked included "Have you started your menstrual period?", "Do you feel loved and cared for?" and "Do you feel safe and secure in your home?"

The questions continued, probing the pupil's relationship with her mother. The child began to feel uncomfortable. When the mother found out, she was "absolutely RAGING".

The interview was part of the named person project, a system whereby every child in Scotland will be assigned a named guardian to oversee their safety and well-being - an initiative that could transform the relationship between schools and parents.

A key problem with the named person set-up is that teachers will now be responsible - and trained to be responsible - for the well-being of every child.

This may sound fair enough, but the breadth of meaning the term well-being can encompass suggests that the roles of parent and teacher will be confused. So, for example, everything from how respected a child is by their carers to how much responsibility they are given by them could become a matter of concern and intervention.

Given the emphasis placed on being aware of "risks" and the potential anxiety about not flagging up a problem early enough, the likely trend is for more and more children to be investigated and put on a children's plan.

When defending the named person legislation, first minister Nicola Sturgeon and others argue that it is about protecting the most vulnerable children, but such a response is disingenuous. This is a universal service trying to prevent problems occurring in the future, and doing so by massively increasing the basis upon which teachers' concerns and suspicions trigger action.

Consequently, all sorts of emotional or personal issues that would previously have been seen as aspects of growing up, or as issues for the family, will become a legally enforceable matter for the named person - for teachers.

Teaching unions have said little about this subject so far - a surprising state of affairs given the seriousness of this development and the pressures that will be placed on senior staff in particular to take on the role.

Worryingly, as parents find out about the named person system, it is likely that some will begin to treat teachers with suspicion and fear, becoming nervous about sharing personal information or discussing difficulties their children are having at home.

Dr Stuart Waiton is a senior lecturer in sociology and criminology at Abertay University

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