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Told in Confidence - Passing on Sensitive Information

At some point in everyone's career they'll be faced with a sensitive situation and how it's handled is vital to achieving the most positive outcome. Ray details for us a couple of his personal experiences and the actions he took to make sure these situations were managed with the child's best interests at heart.

On my Personal Statement I say that I am approachable and caring; in fact I think it is my sincerity and caring nature that makes me approachable to students. I have written before about the importance of getting to know the actual student and not just their grades. I have found that all students, regardless of age, gender or behaviour respond positively. It becomes possible to mediate and achieve a satisfactory outcome when you can ‘talk’ to both sides and when they both respect what you are telling them, I always explain why something is wrong or right and at times when there can be a ‘grey’ area. None of this is unique or new and teachers do this every day, we have to be part facilitators/mediators and part social workers. My approach to teaching means that a greater proportion of my time is unintentionally dedicated to ‘social work’ and I want to share just a few of these examples, in the hope that there might be some information here that would help to deal with ‘flagging’ up difficult or sensitive situations.

Not long after I qualified a most tragic event happened to a student and no amount of previous training could help. Any safeguarding training was irrelevant and passing the ‘issue’ up the line was not an option. In the final weeks of GCSE exams I was informed that this Year 11 student’s mother had died; the student was understandable not in school the following week. During this week his father died. When the student returned he obviously was ill prepared for his exams and it was heart breaking to see an A* student so despondent. I asked ‘Pastoral’ if some counselling could be arranged and despite their best efforts, he would only talk to me. I spoke with him at length over several days and I tried to relate my own grief of when my 6 year old son died to his; I said that I was not comparing or advising how to grieve just that I understood the ‘pain’. I told him that I realised that his GCSE’s were not what his mind was focused on and his grades would suffer but knowing that his parents were proud of his achievements so far, did he want to give them a go, for them. No one was going to hold a low grade against him and I would do what I could to apply to the exam boards for extenuating circumstances. I would also make a case for him to be taken on in the Sixth Form based on his track record of high grades in subjects up to this point. Despite the exam boards allowing a measly 5% increase, he did go on to college and studied for his chosen subject/profession.

This is just one example of a situation whereby my training advice does not apply, we are told to refer pastoral matters on to the relevant staff internally, I did, but the student wouldn't talk to them.

On occasions students will either confide in me or may mention things that need to be ‘flagged up’ and this can be a delicate balancing act. For example, when a young Year 7 lad talked about his family during a lunchtime club. He told me he does paid work for his father and that the police sometimes visit because his father hits his mother. He says that he sleeps on the sofa downstairs and was woken at 3 am last night, by his neighbour who asked him if he wanted to go to the shops. I instantly spoke with the school’s children protection department, foremost because this could be a possible abduction attempt or ‘ grooming’, secondly the child’s sleeping arrangements in an environment of domestic violence and lastly, the issue of child labour. Being a supply teacher I did not know the team and I was concerned that they might not be subtle or sensitive when quizzing the student and my concerns were founded. He was petrified and ‘ clammed up ‘, so I asked if I could speak with him and ask their questions with the Children Protection team present. I reassured him that he was not in any trouble and we just wanted to help him, the result was that he relaxed and were able to put in place support and protection.

Sometimes I do feel that in a busy school environment these who are in a position to help ‘victims’ can become desensitised to the needs of the children. A more recent example is that of a Year 7 student who was not his usual cheerful self; I asked him if he was OK and he shook his head; I spoke with him outside of the classroom and he told me that a Year 9 student had tried to strangle him in the changing rooms, that he couldn’t breathe and his neck was still hurting. He was understandably traumatised. I called on the relevant staff and was surprised by the lack of sympathy for the ‘victim’, I had spent quite a while calming him and reassuring him that it will be sorted out when the investigator asked ‘what did you do to provoke it ?’

My advice is to follow your teacher training but remain a caring person; protect the ‘victims’, do what is (and what society dictates) right. We can’t solve everything but we can listen, support (without asking leading questions or offering advice we are unqualified to give. Guide them to the relevant staff and be there for them in a caring way; formal interviews are daunting for many adults and can be frightening for children) and above all give the child protection.

Tags: RayB

Category: Canadian Teachers

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