Is your child safe at school?
Did anyone read this story recently about a grandfather in Kent who went to pick up his granddaughter and was given the wrong child?
He took this child to a doctor's appointment where she was prescribed liquid paracetemol and then took her back to school. At the end of the day, she was picked up by her mother and, it was only later when she told her what had happened, that the whole story came to light.
I don't know the exact details, only what was reported, and regardless of the extraordinary notion of a presumably competent grandfather confusing a random child with his own granddaughter, the obvious question here is: How on earth did the school give the wrong child to the grandfather in the first place?
If you read my blog regularly, you'll know that I am rigorous about child safety and security in our classes.
Before I started Perform, I worked occasionally for a big franchised drama school and it always worried me that, at the end of the class, I'd open the door and allow 15 children (all aged under 6) to just walk out and be met by a group of adults. There was no procedure to make sure that the right adult collected the right child and it seemed to me that there was a dreadful accident just waiting to happen.
So, when we set up, I put in a place a number of policies and procedures designed to ensure that child security would always be paramount and we still use these at every single Perform class today.
One of the simplest and most important policies is that we maintain a separate list of authorised adults for every child. At the end of each session, we line the children up and only release them once we've seen that a named authorised adult is there to collect them. If somebody turns up who isn't on our list, we don't let the child go with them until we've made telephone contact with one of their authorised adults. Everything that happens is recorded on our register.
It isn't rocket science; it's a quick, easy and reliable system for ensuring that every child is safely collected every time.
So, if a children's drama school can have this sort of safety policy for looking after children one hour or so a week, why can't primary schools put in a similar system to stop situations like the one in Kent happening? Yes, the grandfather wasn't dangerous and it was obviously a mistake, but what if he had been? What if someone had been targeting a child in a class? How safe is your child at their school?
At my daughter's nursery, we are made to sign out every day which I'm told by them is a legal requirement. By contrast, at my son's school, the class teacher leads the Year 1 class into the playground for them to find the person that picks them up.
If it's a legal requirement to sign in and out children up to four in a nursery, why is there no similar legal requirement for a school handing over responsibility for a five year old?
Yes, the parent/carer should be there on time, but what if they are not? Despite the press paranoia about child safety evidenced in campaigns such as 'Sarah's Law', where is the press attention on this clear vulnerability which allows anybody with a bit of local knowledge to take advantage of a slack or non-existent system? What if someone goes up to a child in the madness of school pick-up and tells them that their mum is in the car and they are to go out to it with them? Should five year old children really be responsible for finding the correct parent in a crowded chaotic playground ?
I called The Department of Education to ask what the national child collection policy was and they told me that there is no policy as it's a local issue and therefore it's up to the school. As most stage primary schools are regulated by Ofsted, I spoke with them to find out what the best practice guidelines were and they said that they don't regulate on this area. Finally, I called Camden Council (who operate my son's school) and, after being passed around four different departments, I was told that nobody knew of any policy and that it was a matter for each individual school.
In short, there appear to be absolutely no guidelines in place about this very important safety issue within state schools. A deficiency which, it seems to me, means that it will only be a matter of time before another Kent incident occurs, this time, with potentially tragic consequences. Sadly, it may take such an incident to make the Government act on this issue.
Perhaps your borough council does have a policy on this or maybe you feel that my concerns are over-stated. Either way, I'd be very interested in hearing how your child's school operates and your thoughts on this issue generally.