Teachers have clashed over the controversial Named Person policy, amid claims that it will add yet more workload and compromise pupils’ confidentiality.
Last month, members of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) voted in favour of demanding a delay in implementation – despite previously backing the policy.
Named Person will provide a single point of contact – often a teacher or headteacher – to oversee the wellbeing of every under-18 in Scotland. The policy has been justified as a way of avoiding further tragedies in which children have died after poor communication between child-protection bodies. Opponents of Named Person, however, have argued that it will unnecessarily invade families’ privacy.
The policy could have “far-reaching implications for workload and the responsibilities of teachers”, according to Neil Sinclair, the Ayrshire-based teacher who tabled an emergency motion about Named Person at the SSTA annual conference in Crieff.
His motion urges the Scottish government to postpone the policy – due to come into force in August – to allow a “thorough review of its implications for teachers”.
Mr Sinclair said: “The problem is that up until now information sharing was always about child protection; under Named Person the threshold for sharing information will be much lower – it’s gone from ‘significant harm’ to ‘wellbeing’.”
He was, he said, not against Named Person in principle – “A single channel feeding together all the information from different sources is a good idea” – but he worried about the impact on teacher workload.
Fife teacher Mark Gibson agreed, arguing that as a parent he was “deeply, deeply uncomfortable” about Named Person.
He argued that it could be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, and dismissed a series of court setbacks for groups opposing the scheme by insisting that “the law is an ass”.
Ward McCormick, a teacher from East Ayrshire, said: “I honestly don’t think things are as bad in this legislation as people think they are.” But he still backed Mr Sinclair’s motion, insisting that Named Person still needed to go “back to the drawing board to be made a lot clearer”.
Named Person continued to be a recurring theme throughout the SSTA conference: another motion raised fears about whether teachers would have enough time for all the tasks it entailed; a third warned that the policy could place an “unsustainable burden” on guidance teachers.
However, Ann Stewart-Kmicha, a Lothian teacher, warned of the danger of inadvertently furthering the cause of Named Person’s opponents: “I wouldn’t like the SSTA to be used politically and to have egg on its face…we are on record as supporting the Named Person.”
Similarly, Aberdeen teacher Sid Sandison said he feared that calling for a delay for the policy would fuel critical coverage of Named Person in the media.
Despite such concerns, however, a majority of delegates backed Mr Sinclair’s call to demand a delay.
Named Person is shaping up to be a defining issue of education secretary John Swinney’s first few months in the job. In Parliament last week, Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said that the scheme was “unworkable” and that it was putting teachers off applying for primary headteacher jobs.
“There is a growing consensus in this Parliament that if this policy is not revoked, there should at least be a pause,” she said.
Patrick Harvie, the co-convener of the Green Party, however, slammed the opposition to child-protection legislation such as Named Person as “disgraceful”.
Writing in TESS this week, Glasgow English teacher Gordon Cairns said Named Person would “improve the lives of our most vulnerable children” (see page 15).
But Alison Preuss, who coordinates the Scottish Home Education Forum, said that the policy had the potential to damage schools’ relationships with families.