What would/ should you do if someone else's child confides in you when you are helping in a school?

(41 Posts)
claire70 Sat 03-Jul-10 11:58:44

I was helping with the Y1 reading last week and little girl who is new to the school told me she is unhappy at school. Her comment was provoked by the story she'd just read to me. I didn't really probe, but from the little she said, I got the impression that she just hasn't settled in yet and maybe feels an outsider in the playground (she's relatively new to the school).

I know her mother a little and she seems to me to be the kind of parent who is really concerned to do right by their child and I am 100% sure she'd want to know this (but I guess she does already?).

The teacher is a nice person too and very professional. Maybe two criticisms I would make though is that there isn't a lot of time to listen to the children because there is only a part-time TA and I know my own children had trouble settling in too but the school didn't pick up on that either.

So what is the etiquette in these sort of situations? Should I tell the mother or the teacher what was said to me and leave them to deal with it, as they see appropriate. Or should I just butt out and say nothing as it is really none of my business? I don't want to

claire70 Sat 03-Jul-10 12:00:45

I don't want to step on anyone's toes and I didn't get the impression that the child was severely unhappy, but I don't want her to feel she has "told" someone and nothing was done to help.

StewieGriffinsMom Sat 03-Jul-10 12:02:45

I would mention it to the teacher. Its not a criticism. SOme kids are good at hiding this stuff so they genuinely might not have noticed.

It could be something simple like the teacher needs to work on friendship circles and inclusion through setting activities which require group work but then picking the groups or playground buddies

teamcullenIsaGleek Sat 03-Jul-10 12:20:50

Tell the teacher and give her chance to deal with it. Maybe she is already aware and encouraging friendships or as you say, she might not have noticed and would be glad to be told.

Reallytired Sat 03-Jul-10 12:26:38

claire70, if you have any concerns then you need to refer the matter to the teacher. I don't think its your place as a parent volenteer to tell the mother. The school certainly wouldn't like it.

You have to tell the teacher, or other member of staff. The school will have a policy in place for things like this, make sure you follow it.

It's not about etiquette here, it's about policy. In all the schools I have worked at TAs and volunter helpers need to tell the teacher things like this, and then the teacher is the one who speaks to the parent.

Hope that helps.

yeah, it's not your place to tell the child's mother.

claire70 Sat 03-Jul-10 12:36:51

yes , it does help.
is there usually some sort of induction for parent helpers? If there is a policy covering how we should behave, then shouldn't schools take the time to write a pamphlet or something to tell us what is expected?
Not complaining, its just that it would be handy to know in advance what is expected rather than get it wrong and upset people. Last night I saw the mother in the playground at pick up and I nearly spoke to her about it then, but I bit my tongue and posted on here instead. Now I am glad I waited.

MmeRedWhiteandBlueberry Sat 03-Jul-10 12:42:14


If you are helping in school, you should have Safeguarding/Child Protection training. You should at minimum know the school's own procedures.

If a child confides in you, you should inform them that you may need to tell others, and that you will listen to them. You can't make any promises. You should never ask leading questions.

You should then follow up with the form tutor or CPLO as appropriate (form tutor in this case), so that they can take over. You need to check back with them to see what they are doing. This step is vitally important - don't pass the buck and then assume anything.

If it is simply a case of a child being slow to settle, then you should just be there to listen to them. They have picked you to confide in - but do be open with the form tutor about the issue.

claire70 Sat 03-Jul-10 12:53:38

MmeRedWhiteandBlueberry - ok, but how do you find out about school procedures? Will the school secretary keep a written copy I could look over? I am supposed to be helping the teacher, not giving her more work, so it doesn't seem right to ask her to talk me through things.

claire70 Sat 03-Jul-10 12:56:45

and actually on a related point, how do you find out about school policies on specific subjects without having to ask the head "does it exist and if so can I have a copy?". Sometimes, things seem wrong to me but I don't know if it is just the way this school does things or if genuinely one of the teacher's is not doing what they ought to (not talking about the teacher in the original post here).

MmeRedWhiteandBlueberry Sat 03-Jul-10 12:58:58

You need to ask the school (head teacher, if necessary), but frankly, they should be proactive in giving you the necessary training.

The school has a statutory obligation to ensure that all workers are trained, and to ensure that this training is no more than three years out of date.

MmeRedWhiteandBlueberry Sat 03-Jul-10 13:00:42

School policies (on everything) should be freely available to parents. We publish our policies on our website, which I think is current best practice.

chimchar Sat 03-Jul-10 13:16:58

god...its terrible that you've had no induction at all. as it is, it was a fairly minor/harmless confession from the little girl...something that is easily put right. it could have been a serious disclosure on a child protection issue that has very specific rules to follow (like another poster said, not asking any questions, promising nothing etc)

in an instance like yours, i always tell them that i'm going to try to help them with their problem, but to do this i'm going to have to tell mrs jones, the head (or whatever) and she can help us to put things right.

you should try (for your own benefit) to keep things like that within school...i would tell the class teacher...if not, then the head.

i would also speak to the head and tell them that you really enjoy helping out, but would like a brief idea of school policies and procedures that will ensure you do the right thing if it happens again.

good on you for helping out...smile

MmeRedWhiteandBlueberry Sat 03-Jul-10 13:25:54

Child protection is a minefield. When I did my teacher training, this session was a real eye-opener - I had no idea, especially no idea that CP issues did not respect socio-economic boundaries.

It is important not to be suspicious at every unusual situation you encounter, but also be mindful of real examples of awful cases. That is why Every Child Matters has risen in importance. I think basically it means that you don't keep anything to yourself, but also that you maintain an interest and follow-up anything you are involved in. You cannot promise anything to the child except to listen to them and to be there for them.

A child unhappy in transition is probably not a CP issue, but you can follow the same guidelines, which means you are within your rights to follow-up and nag the form tutor.

mummytime Sat 03-Jul-10 13:34:51

Basically from the training I have now received (and I was never told what to do as a parent helper either). I would: tell the class teacher, and make sure she made a written record. I probably would follow this up with an email to the head, CCing the class teacher, saying that I had passed on this comment from the child. Just so there is a written paper trail.

I had a 14 year old boy threaten to hug me the other week, and I was not worried. But I was thinking the whole time "Oh no the paper work, if he does...". (I had a teacher witness, as well as several students who would have privately vouched for me.

claig Sat 03-Jul-10 13:44:39

I don't know if this case has any similarities in what happens if informing parents
www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/6216303/Dinner-lady-sacked-after-telling-parents-of-daug hters-bullying.html

claire70 Sat 03-Jul-10 13:45:55

mummytime... "threaten to hug"?? I know 14 year old boys don't usually want to hug but are you saying he was doing it as a way getting at you? How strange/ sophisticated of him but not in a nice way!

claire70 Sat 03-Jul-10 13:50:01

claig - that story!! Oh my God! Parents should know about something like that. Does this mean that the law says that they shouldn't? In that case, it is not the school's fault, but we should be lobbying Michael Gove for a change in the law.

claig Sat 03-Jul-10 13:51:58

yes I thought it was very strange at the time. I don't really understand why she had done wrong. It seems it is to do with breaching pupil confidentiality.

claire70 Sat 03-Jul-10 13:57:08

But she was only 7, so far too young to deal with things like this herself. Her parents have ultimate responsibility for what happens to her at that age and it is their job to look out for her and protect her. They need to know.

claig Sat 03-Jul-10 13:59:18

yes I would have thought so. It must be due to the fact that the dinner lady was an employee of the school and was acting as a sort of whistleblower, because if the child had told her aunt and her aunt had then told the mother, I can't see there being any breach of confidentiality.

claig Sat 03-Jul-10 14:03:36

what happens if a school is run by a bullying head teacher and where health and safety is possibly put at risk on school trips, is nobody allowed to inform the parents?

CLAIG, THE HEAD TEacher isn't the top dog at the school though, there are governors that can be approached about things too.

Just because policies state that adults other than teachers should not disclose information to parents, doesn't mean they can't pass on their concerns and any incidents to the relevant teachers or head etc.

Claire70 all your school policies will be available for parents in the school office, and usually online too on the school website.

Feenie Sat 03-Jul-10 20:30:56

Whistleblowing policies and procedures exist, Claig, but they wouldn't include telling parents, no.

claire70 Sun 04-Jul-10 09:04:12

The school policies are not available on the school website, nice though that would be, but I'll ask at the office to see them. Do you have to ask for each of them individually by name or are they typically in one book or ringbinder?

Isn't there legislation in place to protect whistle-blowers such that sacking a whistle-blower is the employer sin equivalent of a thief murdering his victim so he can't be identified?
I know there is such legislation in other sectors, so surely it applies to education too? I also sort of see why there is a fear of telling the parents,(they may over react) but then again they are the only group that care enough to make sure things are put right? A child's wellbeing is the parents responsibility and they only devolve it to the school for a few hours a day (approx 14% of a year - 6.5 hours X 5 days x 38 weeks).

I googled that school where the cleaner was sacked. It s a small village school with 61 children near the Essex-Suffolk border. Since the little girl was attacked, there has been another incident that made the press where a child was not properly cared for after breaking his ankle and Ed balls has written to the head governor to order him to improve things. However, the school has an Ofsted "good" rating and it gets better than average results. Clearly though there is something very wrong in that school but the authorities are not really taking action. So it is only the parents who would care enough to deal with things promptly.

RamonaThePest Sun 04-Jul-10 11:42:48

Whistleblowing to my mind would mean :
- telling the teacher
- if no joy, telling the head
- if no joy, telling the governors
- if no joy, telling Ofsted.

It would not include telling the parents.

claig Sun 04-Jul-10 12:00:18

what about all the parent partnership type initiatives? Why are the parents the last to find out?

mrz Sun 04-Jul-10 13:02:04

When you started helping you should have been told who to speak to in the event of a disclosure or concern usually the class teacher unless it is a child protection issue when you would need to speak to the designated CP person. Nothing in your post suggests that there is a CP concern so I would raise the issue with teacher.
Speaking to the parents would be in breech of confidentiality and while it is a huge concern that the child is so unhappy she isn't in any danger in school.

mrz Sun 04-Jul-10 13:06:55

This isn't the same as the newspaper report unless you know the child is unhappy because she is being bullied???
The lady in the report should have informed the designated child protection person who should be known by all the staff students and volunteers in the school.

lljkk Sun 04-Jul-10 14:04:00

I've parent volunteered at school loads over the years and never been told anything about confidentiality! tbh, I hate this whole "Can't say anything straight to the people directly concerned" culture we've fallen into; must follow a "policy" instead about what you're allowed to say to whom.

claire70 Sun 04-Jul-10 14:06:08

mrs - I, agree: the story is completely different from my circumstances (and no, I wasn't given any kind of intro).

One major difference between me and that lady is of course that I am not an employee and therefore I am not remunerated in any way. However, I am happy to conform to school procedures (once i know what they are).

Whistleblowing is when you see something happening in a/your organisation that is wrong. Who you tell depends very much on the circumstances, but it is easy to think of lots of times where you do not give the perpetrator time to fix things themselves e.g. if a bank manager was stealing, then it would not be a satisfactory solution to tip him off.
In this case the dinner lady wasn't even whistleblowing: she just wrongly assumed that the parents already knew what had happened, but the school had only given them a first aid report that said there had been a 2skipping rope incident". She didn't know that and if she had wanted to protect herself then she might have acted more cautiously. However, in the end all she did was tell the parents what they had a right to know. She did not name the other children, so the only child's confidentiality that she breached was the daughter of the people she was speaking to. Tell me I am wrong, or what I am missing?

mrz Sun 04-Jul-10 14:28:53

As a parent volunteer you are expected to follow the same confidentiality procedures as an employee.

There are certain standard procedures that all/most schools follow (as I explained) which the class teacher or whoever asked you to help should have explained.

The dinner lady broke the school's code of confidentiality and it doesn't make a difference whether or not she named other pupils involved or not. If she felt the school wasn't dealing with things correctly she should have followed procedure

claire70 Sun 04-Jul-10 14:54:20

As I said in my last post, I will honour the school's procedures now that I know what they most likely are. I have not breached them and I will not.

The dinner lady was sacked for breaching the child's confidentiality, not the school's. And IF you believe her story then she did not knowingly even do that .. she just asked the mother how her daughter was. She assumed (wrongly) that when the head said she had some calls to make that she meant that she was going to call the child's parents. Instead the head only called the aggressors's parents (one of whom was a school governor).

I do have a problem though with any attitude that puts the reputation of a school before the safety of the children in it. And there does seem to be an emerging theme that schools are in some way above parents when determining what is best for a child, which would be a view that I do not agree with at all.

mrz Sun 04-Jul-10 15:09:56

It is not putting the school's reputation before the safety of the child, it is about not giving a parent "half a story" because even as an employee the dinner lady is not in full possession of all the facts and alarming parents without knowing what action has been taken is wrong. None of us know the full story (unless we are the parents or the child or the head of the school) so making judgements from sensationalised news reports is pointless.

If a child is in danger there are procedures in place which the dinner lady should have followed but instead she "gossiped"

claire70 Sun 04-Jul-10 16:19:54

She told the head immediately. How is that gossiping?

But do you real feel "gossip" is the right verb to use when the adult who rescued a child from being tied up and whipped, speaks to the child's mother?

I am really surprised at this thread because what started as a small dilemma, seems to be evolving into much darker territory. Mrz. I know you are a HT (because you said you were when you helped me in a thread a few months ago) and I have always respected your views (and have been grateful for your help), but today for this first time, i find myself disagreeing with you. It makes me think that either you are representing a viewpoint which does not respect the parent's role in a child's life or (more likely and definitely hopefully), I have just misunderstood your meaning.

mrz Sun 04-Jul-10 16:41:02

Yes I do think "gossip" is the right word to use. It was not her place to tell the parents or to discuss it with parents it was the job of the headteacher. Now did the headteacher do the right thing is another thing altogether.

claire if you know I'm a headteacher it is more than I do and I have certainly never claimed to be one as that would be a lie.

I am however the designated child protection teacher and I would be concerned if either a dinner lady or headteacher failed to act correctly which I feel as an outsider (not in full possession of all the facts) is the case in the school in question. The dinner lady should have said nothing to the parents and the head should have.

lljkk Mon 05-Jul-10 13:32:08

So the priority of Cover Your Arse prevails over the cause of Transparency, yet again. As has always been the case with all institutions. That's what "Policies" and "Procedures" are really about. (Sigh).

claire70 Mon 05-Jul-10 13:48:39

I told the teacher this morning. I felt like an interfering busy-body as I went over to talk to her but she was concerned and took it seriously. I hope she sorts something out for this little girl.

mrz Mon 05-Jul-10 18:18:59

No the priority of keeping a child safe takes precedence over jumping in without knowing all the facts lljkk. As in another real case of a well meaning classroom helper asking a parent about a child's injuries not knowing the child was at risk so tipping off the parent to do a vanishing trick ...

mrz Mon 05-Jul-10 18:20:39

claire I'm pleased you've been able to talk to the teacher and she has recognised your concerns. I imagine you feel much happier

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