Skip to main content

Who is protected by need-to-know zone?

My Scottish education authority recently issued revised guidelines on child protection that reiterated the point that any third party involved in a case would be informed only on a "need-to-know" basis. Although I understand a child's right to confidentiality, the vagueness of the term leaves it open to misinterpretation and leaves those outside the "need-to-know" umbrella unprotected. Surely, the rights of the child shouldn't be at the expense of the rights of the teacher?

Last year I took a group of pupils on a residential course for a week. Just before the trip, I found out, by chance, that one of the girls could not be left unsupervised in case she harmed herself. I spoke to her guidance teacher, who, apart from being annoyed that the pupil's confidentiality had been broken, also told me the girl had moved out of her children's home after she had made false accusations of sexual abuse against male members of staff.

My investigations then took me to the girl's head of year, who spoke about a case conference at which it was decided she should be allowed to go on this trip. Although I was the teacher in charge - and the pupil's point of contact should she have any problems - I was deemed to be outside the need-to-know zone. This is the nub of the problem: who decides which people need to know and on what criteria are these decisions made?

In such situations, surely the teacher in direct contact with the pupil has to be included? It is that teacher whose name and reputation are at risk if he or she unwittingly finds himself or herself in a compromised position. Apart from suspension from work, the police investigation and the strain and doubts put on a marriage, how often does the public believe the allegations are probably groundless? Retractions of abuse claims don't get quite the same headlines.

Being privy to background information could also help teachers develop strategies to cope with behavioural problems; knowing why a pupil can't accept discipline might help reduce the chance of flashpoints arising in the classroom.

Exclusion from the need-to-know zone questions our professionalism. Surely, as child-centred trained professionals, we can be trusted to maintain the confidentiality of a child and be able to act accordingly with that information?

The writer teaches in Glasgow

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you