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Will My Child Be Looked After In School?

Schools have responsibilities under Health and Safety legislation to make sure that pupils are safe while they’re in school. Although it is not written into law, courts have accepted that head teachers and teachers have a ‘duty of care’ towards their pupils in school.

Health

Schools should be able to provide first aid if there are minor accidents. They will normally record incidents in a book and will send a note to you at home. If an injury or illness is anything other than minor, the school is likely to call you and ask you to collect your child.

Most schools have a nurse who will carry out regular checks on your child’s hearing, sight, growth and general development. A dentist might visit to check teeth. Sometimes schools will arrange for vaccinations to be carried out. They’ll ask for your agreement. If your child has a medical condition or needs to take medication regularly, you should let the head teacher know.

Your child’s school should also have:

- staff who have been trained to recognise signs of abuse;
- a senior member of staff who is responsible for child protection;
- procedures for checking on staff suitability before they are allowed to work with children;
- a child protection policy.

Racism

As a parent, you may be concerned about the possibility of your child having to deal with racism in school. Schools and teachers need to acknowledge that racism exists in society and it’s therefore possible that it might exist within schools. They need to confront racism wherever and whenever it appears in schools.

Under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, public bodies (including state-maintained schools) must have ‘due regard to the need’:

- to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination; and
- to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups.

Schools can’t claim that they don’t have the resources to meet these responsibilities.

All state-maintained schools must also produce a written statement of their policy for promoting race equality and you can ask to see it. They must also note and report racist incidents to the local authority. The school’s race equality policy is just as important in schools with few children from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) or Traveller families as it is in those with many. Just because there are few BME or Traveller children does not mean that racism does not exist within that school.

Independent schools don’t have to comply with these requirements in the same way although the Commission for Racial Equality strongly encouraged them to do so. However, the Race Relations Act does require them not to discriminate in terms of admissions, access to benefits or services, and exclusions. If your child’s school is independent, you may still want to ask if they have a race equality policy.

If you believe that your child is subject to racism in school, you might first talk to his/her teacher or head teacher. If you are not happy with the results, you can discuss the matter with the parent governor representative or other governors. If that does not help, you can take your complaint to the local authority. You can try to get help from your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau or Racial Equality Council.

Bullying

Bullying includes written, verbal and physically abusive behaviour. More recently, much has been written about ‘cyber’ bullying via email, websites and mobile phones. Children may not tell parents about bullying, sometimes through fear, sometimes out of embarrassment. Changes in behaviour or the quality of their work might be a sign that something is wrong. Your child might suddenly no longer want to go to school or they might be unwell more often than usual or have difficulty sleeping. He/she may ‘lose’ more belongings. Or he/she may start asking for more money.

Try to talk to your child about bullying, preferably before it’s likely to happen. It’s vital to listen to what your child does say about school. There may be clues even if he/she doesn’t want to be explicit. Do you know your child’s friends? Have they said anything to their parents? Is your child’s teacher aware of any changes at school? Might your child talk to other members of your family or to a friend?

Schools must have written policies and procedures to prevent and deal with bullying. You can ask to see these policies.

If your child is being bullied, make notes of what is happening and talk to his/her teacher. Write down what action the teacher intends to take. If you’re not satisfied, then you can talk to the head teacher or a parent governor. If that doesn’t work, you can take your complaint to the local authority and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) or OFSTED. You could also consider moving your child to a different school.

Being told that your child is bullying others would come as an enormous shock. None of us wants to believe that our child is a bully, but the fact is that bullies do exist in schools. It's important to stay calm as you listen to any allegations. Listen carefully, too, to what your child has to say. While you naturally want to defend your child, do consider the possibility that your child might not behave exactly the same at school as he/she does at home. If you believe that your child has been wrongly accused of bullying, then take this up with the head teacher.

If there is any possibility that your child is bullying others or is part of a group of bullies, then you need to discuss this as calmly and positively as possible with your child and the school and see if there are any sources of help. It is vital not to ignore this. You and your child need not feel alone and isolated.

You can get help and support.

- Parentline Plus has a helpline: 0808 800 2222
- Kidscape has a helpline for parents: 08451 205204.
- The Advisory Centre for Education gives advice to parents and children on all school matters: 0808 800 5793.
- The Children’s Legal Centre gives free legal advice on all aspects of the law affecting children and young people: 01206 872466.

Racist bullying

Unfortunately, some children do experience racist bullying in school or on the way to and from school. This might take the form of verbal abuse or even physical abuse. It is important to inform the school’s head teacher about any incidents of this kind.

The school should have a written race equality policy and you should be able to get a copy. If the school is unwilling or unable to take action to prevent the bullying, you can complain to your local authority. If matters become serious enough, you may want to make a complaint to the police.

You can get help and advice from all the organisations mentioned under ‘Bullying’ above.