19th February 2010 at 00:00

A 16-year-old pupil has started to get low marks. He told me that he is depressed after his parents' separation and is taking drugs. What can I do?

Knowing who to turn to can be tough, but for the sake of the pupil it is vital that you take action quickly. Sharing information with the right people at the right time in cases like this can be the turning point on which their future rests.

It is important that you are open and honest with the pupil and try to gain his consent to share information about him with the safeguarding lead teacher in the school. It is also important that you make it clear to him that you are under an obligation to share the information if you believe they are at risk of significant harm, even if this means doing so without their consent.

Try to strike the right balance to ensure that information is shared at the right time, in the right way and only with those people who really need to know. Remember that the repercussions of not sharing information could be serious.

Throughout the process, make a record of your decisions and why you took them. If you do not have consent and are unsure of how to proceed, you could seek advice from the safeguarding lead or headteacher, retaining the pupil's anonymity as far as possible.

Whether or not you have consent, when providing information to the safeguarding lead teacher, make sure you distinguish fact from opinion and ensure that the information is shared confidentially.

Tell the pupil that you have spoken to the person in charge of safeguarding if they don't already know - unless you feel it could place them at an increased risk of harm.

The safeguarding lead can then work with the pupil, possibly in conjunction with other relevant staff both in the school and beyond, to assess the impact on his health and well-being, and agree next steps.

If a member of staff or a volunteer ever expresses concerns about a child's welfare, or if a child discloses information that gives them grounds for concern, the adult should always speak to their designated person with a view to passing on the information. If at any stage they had concerns about the pupil's immediate safety - such as the likelihood of an overdose - they need to take urgent action.

The ways in which teachers should deal with issues of this type should be set out in your school's safeguarding or child protection policy. It is important that you are familiar with the expectations this places on you.

It is very important that if, at any stage, you have doubts about the correct course of action, you seek advice from the head or the safeguarding lead, who have responsibility to support you in your decisions.

If you want further help and advice, look at the Government's information-sharing guidance at www.dcsf.gov.ukecminformationsharing which has been endorsed by a number of organisations, including the NASUWT and other education unions.

In the longer term, you may want to consider asking your local authority for training. Resources to assist practitioners to work together to safeguard and promote children's welfare are also available at www.dcsf.gov.ukeverychildmattersresources-and-practiceIG00182

Chris Keates is general secretary of the NASUWT.

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