Schools urgently need advice on the practical implications of last week’s successful legal challenge to the Named Person scheme, according to teaching unions.
With many Scottish teachers back at work next week and pupils following hot on their heels, the Scottish government has been warned that advice must be ready in time.
“Headteachers have gone off on holiday geared up to implement Named Person,” said Greg Dempster, general secretary of primary school leaders’ body AHDS. “This judgment cuts across implementation, but what does it mean for headteachers in practice?”
Mr Dempster added that many educators had undergone Named Person training expecting that the legislation would come into force nationally on 31 August. They would now be wondering if this was still relevant, he said.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said that proposals for supporting Named Person implementation “fell short of what will be required to deliver the scheme and prevent additional workload burdens in schools”.
He added: “These are very real concerns, which need to be questioned and thoroughly investigated before the scheme is rolled out across the country.”
Named Person aims to provide a single point of contact – often a teacher or headteacher – to oversee the wellbeing of every person under the age of 18 in Scotland. A legal challenge to the policy was upheld last week at the Supreme Court in London after judges found that the scheme could “give rise to disproportionate interferences” in family life. However, they also described the intention of the legislation as “unquestionably legitimate and benign”.
A Scottish government spokeswoman told TESS that no advice was being provided directly to schools, although updates about the implications of the Supreme Court verdict were being sent to council chief executives, who were expected to share these with staff.
John Swinney, deputy first minister and education secretary, insisted that the “attempt to scrap the Named Person service had failed” and that the principle of a single point of contact was not in question.
However, changes over how information about children will be shared must now be made within 42 days to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case was brought by the Christian Institute, the Family Education Trust, ME charity the Tymes Trust and Care (Christian Action Research and Education) after an appeal last year to the Court of Session in Edinburgh was rejected and arguments against Named Person dismissed as “hyperbole”.
Not a ‘snooper’s charter’
Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said she was “pleased” with last week’s result, after having raised concerns that information about children and families could be shared widely without their permission under the scheme.
“To us, this was both a breach of law and a breach of trust which would have significant implications,” she added. “If young people and families are fearful about information being shared…with or without their consent, they will not seek help.
“We have always recognised that the legislative intention comes from a good place, but intention is not enough – the realities of the legislation we cannot support.”
Calum Munro, former policy lead for the children’s forum in Highland, where Named Person has been piloted, said: “The concept was never designed as a ‘snooper’s charter’ – there are not enough resources in social work, health and education in Scotland to engage in unwarranted intrusion into families even if any organisation wanted to.”
Children had died after poor communication between bodies that were responsible for their welfare, Mr Munro added, so the concerns over information-sharing should not be allowed to “recreate the silo mentality that can afflict organisations”.
Days the Supreme Court gave the Scottish government to ensure that Named Person complies with the European Convention on Human Rights
People who have signed an anti-Named Person petition since it launched in June 2015
No MSPs voted against Named Person legislation when it was approved in February 2014