Right of Reply

The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers replies to a leading article on the protection of pupils

THE JOY shown by their school at the safe return of Lisa Hoodless and Charlene Lunnon is witness to the depth of care that teachers feel for their pupils. Castigated by some of the press for failing to follow guidelines - which did not exist - and inform the parents immediately, the staff at the school must have been beside themselves with worry over the children.

Every teacher will seek to expedite the passing on of information. But the criticism ignores the practical difficulties of informing parents immediately if a child does not turn up or goes absent during the day.

When registers are checked, the teacher's responsibility is to inform the head of any absences. The head then decides how to proceed. In a 300- pupil primary school, a winter absence rate of 10 per cent is not unusual.

Schools have contact numbers for parents or a responsible adult in case of emergency. The issue is, to whom does the head delegate responsibility for making contact? It cannot be the teachers: they are in class teaching the 90 per cent who have arrived. If the school has support staff, they may carry out the job. But anyone who has ever done a ring-round knows that it is never straightforward.

Then there are the young people who slip away after the register has been called, to avoid a lesson or to meet friends free at the time.

The Government wants its guidelines on informing parents to be followed. But it must ensure that the support is there to enable schools to do so. There is no fail-safe method. But the dangers can be limited. For that, schools need the resources - and most of all they need the support of parents who, after all, are responsible for their children outside the school day.

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