Ever more laws add to my litigation fears

15th April 2005 at 01:00
I have recently come to realise that I misheard Tony Blair during his campaigning for the 1997 election and that what he actually said was: "Litigation, litigation, litigation!"

The amount of legislation which has been introduced over the past few years and which now directly affects what we do in primary schools on a daily basis is frightening. Trying to get my head round it all has been more than a little daunting.

I unfortunately missed the training session on the Human Rights Act and have lived to regret it. We have been required to audit all of our school policies and procedures and complete a rather intimidating audit form for each policy or procedure which we have identified as having human rights implications. After each question we were told that if the answer was no, we may be in breach of human rights! How scary is that, especially if you haven't understood the question?

I did attend the session on the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act but it did nothing to reduce my stress levels. I learned that what I have always regarded as helpful aides-memoire in the form of contemporaneous notes can now be requested by anyone, anywhere, without explanation and for any unspecified purpose. I went through my files and bought a bigger shredder.

Fortunately, that freed up room for pupils' records, which we now have to keep in school for an indeterminable period under the Pupils' Educational Records (Scotland) Regulations 2003 in line with the Data Protection Act, after families have left for pastures new. We have been provided with a flowchart over two A4 pages and 30 text boxes to help us decide what to do next when a child utters the dreaded words: "I'm going to a new school."

I had to look up the verb "redact" to help with my interpretation of this useful guide. I suspect we will have to introduce a budget line for the purchase of filing cabinets over the coming years.

Sometimes, but not very often - well, to be honest, never - do I feel sorry for the people who have to read the legislation, make sense of it and then send out horrendous documents to schools for "consultation" and eventual implementation.

The 45-page draft document on Photographing and Filming of Children and Young People that landed on my desk would come into that category. It related to both data protection and human rights, so was high in the league table of unintelligibility.

Without the aid of any fortifying liquor, I dutifully ploughed through it and then discussed it with our parent bodies, who were bemused at the lengths to which we might have to go to appease only one individual.

I am still waiting for someone to visit and carry out an audit of the building in line with the Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils'

Educational Records) (Scotland) Act 2002. I won't be placing any bets on the outcome. While it is simply a matter of spending a phenomenal amount of money on the physical layout of the school to comply with legislation, the issue of children's accessibility to the curriculum following our own audit will be much more complex.

Which brings us to the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 and a significant and unappealing workload for schools.

Personally, I do not relish the prospect of explaining to a parent, whose child previously had a record of needs, why he or she does not now qualify for a co-ordinated support plan, or, even more daunting, trying to pull together all of the agencies involved in drawing up a co-ordinated support plan for a child who does.

And by the way, all those parents who would like to request an assessment of their child's dyslexia, please form a queue.

Perhaps it is just my paranoia, but I wonder why dispute resolution is such a feature of the Act.

Such legislation is part of the drive to make the world a better place for all of us. My concern is that primary schools may be blamed in the future for our failure to cope with a litigious barrage if we get it all wrong now.

Joan Fenton is headteacher of Dyce Primary in Aberdeen

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