Whistleblowing without backlash

2nd November 2007 at 00:00
It is not unusual for staff to have concerns about what is happening in school. More often than not, they are relatively minor and can be easily resolved, but there are times when the concerns are about serious issues of unlawful conduct, financial malpractice, dangers to the public or damage to the environment. Staff are often wary of raising these issues in case they are accused of being troublemakers.

There should be no need to worry. The Public Disclosure Act 1998, the whistleblowing Act, has helped all employees to raise legitimate worries about school activities and practices without fearing any backlash.

All schools now have to tell staff how to raise concerns confidentially. Each school should have a policy that encourages staff to come forward with any concerns they may have about such diverse topics as potential breaches of law, health and safety risks, misuse of public funds and unethical or improper conduct. The onus is then on the school to decide what action to take about those concerns.

Normally a senior member of staff, or perhaps an independent outsider, will be asked to investigate, but some concerns will be resolved by agreed action without the need for investigation. In all cases it is important for the concerned person to receive feedback about what has been done.

The whole business can be traumatic for some staff and they might need counselling to be arranged. They have the right to the support of a union representative or a friend if called to a meeting.

Anyone who does blow the whistle will be protected from possible reprisals if they have a "reasonable belief" they have made a disclosure in good faith. But the Act warns that vexatious or malicious calls could result in disciplinary action.

Chris Lowe, Former headteacher and chief editor of Quick Guide Publishing.

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