Tsar sets his sight on schools

26th June 2009 at 01:00
Instant messaging and email are just two of the ways Tam Baillie will communicate with young people

Scotland's children's tsar has told MSPs that schools will be his principal means of communicating with youngsters.

Tam Baillie, the new Scottish Commissioner for Children and Young People, plans to establish relationships with schools across the country - primary, secondary, special, residential and secure - using instant messaging and email to question pupils and glean their thoughts and opinions.

He was also enthusiastic about the "wonderful opportunity to engage with education and schools" presented by the Scottish schools' intranet, Glow.

The structures in place for listening to and acting on the views of children and youngsters - such as pupil councils and the Scottish Youth Parliament - were "actually rather flimsy", Mr Baillie said.

He hoped to promote good practice in the area and model it in his office, he told members of the Parliament's education committee who were taking evidence on what he saw as his priorities, five weeks into the commissioner's post.

Mr Baillie said that in the first instance he would use contact with schools to carry out a national consultation with children and young people. However, he hoped the relationships would be "ongoing".

Teachers would have to act as mediators; he would have to get them "on board", he acknowledged.

"I've spoken to the national educational institutions and they have been enthusiastic about the possibility of direct contact between my office and classes of pupils," said Mr Baillie, who has worked with children for the past 30 years, latterly as director of policy for Barnardo's Scotland.

Mr Baillie told the committee he had three priorities as the new children's commissioner: to promote awareness and understanding of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; to run a national consultation with children and young people; and to highlight the areas in which Scotland could do better, including disabled children, looked-after children and the children of prisoners.

The annual report by Scotland's chief inspector of prisons had shown that, while just 1 per cent of children entered care, 50 per cent of Scottish prisoners had been looked after in the care system, and 80 per cent of those convicted of violence had been in care, said Mr Baillie. "If we are looking at societal benefit, this is a group of children we have to pay more attention to," he said.

However, there were "two other issues of significant concern", he said - child poverty and inequality, and the early years.

"The development of early years services to better support parents will have generational benefits, but we have to move on that because you only get one shot at nurturing children."

Mr Baillie also admitted to being concerned at the portrayal of children in the media. It showed sympathy for the tragic deaths of Baby P and Brandon Muir, but no thought was given to the often troubled pasts of adolescents who displayed troubling behaviour. "(The media) don't home in on that," he said.

Mr Baillie said he was pleased the MSP review group, looking into a potential merger of his role and that of the human rights commissioner, had concluded they should remain separate. That had strengthened his office, he said.

"I'm happy to be held accountable and convince people of the value of having this national office. I think Scotland should be proud. I know the international perspective is we are held in high regard."

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