Nativity naivete

20th December 2002 at 00:00
It would be easy to dismiss Edinburgh Council's little local difficulty over banning the filming of pupils in schools without parental permission as a four-day wonder got up by a manipulative media. But its over-reaction to the dangers of paedophilia was a serious error of judgment which has satisfied no one. On the one hand, there is probably now unnecessary fear and alarm about paedophiles lurking around schools (forgetting that most child abusers know their victims); on the other hand, the council's suspension of its guidelines must presumably mean, by its own initial logic, that schools are left unprotected.

At least the council now deserves credit for issuing a political apology. But merely to "suspend" the guidelines under the threat of court action rather than withdraw them before a return to the drawing board is not the most gracious exit. We are left to digest a political fudge.

Child protection is, of course, notoriously difficult. Those who take sensitive decisions are damned if they do, damned if they don't. But what is surely necessary is clarity. Local authorities have got themselves into this kind of bother before by issuing guidelines which are then interpreted as a "ban." So one lesson from this very unseasonal episode is that councils have to decide what should sensibly be left to headteachers'

discretion and what should not, rather than trying to have it both ways.

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