SCHOOLS largely ignore their legal obligation to provide basic information about a child's schooling to all those with parental responsibility, according to the National Stepfamily Association.
It says schools often shy away from providing details about pupil behaviour, exclusion appeals and homework policies to separated parents because they do not want to become involved in family conflicts.
But the association is urging schools to accommodate family diversity as nearly one-third of young people will have gone through family upheaval and change by the age of 16 and an estimated 18 million people are involved in step-family life.
The NSA has released a pack called Family Upheaval and Change, which includes guidelines for headteachers, governors, staff and parents. The guidelines were written by John Bastiani, an education consultant and senior research fellow at Nottingham Trent University.
He says admission and record-keeping procedures should use sensitive language and be welcoming to all who take a principal caring role for a child. Formal links between administrative and pastoral systems would ensure key staff know when a child's family circumstances had changed.
Home-school policy arrangements must take into account the diversity of pupils' family backgrounds. Schools should ensure that communications reach both full-time step-parents and part-time families and that correct names and details are used. Dr Bastiani suggests establishing a system to pass information from teacher to teacher to "help create a more understanding and supportive environment".
Children need schools' particular support and understanding when families split and when new partners arrive. Pastoral care initiatives suggested include counselling support, peer support projects, befriending and advocacy schemes and supported study centres.
Dr Bastiani says children "need to know that life in lone-parent and step-families is normal, and is just another form of family life that can be happy and rewarding".
The NSA suggests that schools set up a working group to oversee their review. Dr Bastiani says it is vital to involve families, particularly where there are significant differences between the background and culture of school staff and parents.
Family Upheaval and Change is available from the National Stepfamily Association, tel 0171 209 2460, for pound;9 inc pamp;p.