18th December 2009 at 00:00

Next term I would like to visit some of my pupils at home to discuss their progress with the parents. Are there any guidelines I should follow?

Home visits can be very helpful in strengthening the partnership with parents and carers. When they work well they can offer valuable insights into a pupil's life away from school and present the chance to discuss ideas in a more relaxed setting.

However, some parents and carers may be apprehensive about someone from school visiting them at home and may prefer to come into school instead. So it is important to respect their right to refuse your offer. The ultimate aim is to ensure that the visit is beneficial and safe for all concerned.

Your school should have guidelines and policies for home visits and most local authorities also have procedures in place.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families advises that schools have a process to ensure that all visits are justified and recorded and that employees are not exposed to unacceptable levels of risk. This includes the possibilities of unfounded allegations being made against the school or a member of staff.

A risk assessment should be completed before a home visit, taking into account factors such as hostility, child protection and previous complaints or grievances. Some schools only allow home visits if two members of staff attend together.

If you have never completed a risk assessment of this type before, your local authority may have a pro forma document you can use. Alternatively, you can find links to, and guidance on, the standard five-step risk assessment process on The Key's website.

The DCSF also recommends that any staff going on a home visit should have access to a mobile telephone and an emergency contact.

In Havering, members of the council's educational psychology service make regular home visits. They make the precaution of arranging a call to a colleague when the visit is finished, ensuring that someone is aware of where staff are at all times.

A home visit can also raise confidentiality issues. In order to encourage open and frank discussions with parents and carers, they need to feel confident that the topic and content of any conversation will be dealt with appropriately. It is up to you, as a professional, to convey this impression and agree any actions that will be taken.

Equally, you should be familiar with your school's confidentiality policy. If a pupil has confided in you at school, it could be damaging to your relationship if you bring the subject up with their parents or carers if it does not need to be discussed.

In addition, in some cases you may spot child protection issues, which you need to raise with the appropriate authority.

Catherine Allan and Caroline Cochrane are health and safety researchers at The Key, an independent service for school leaders. Visit www.usethekey.org.uk.

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