Parents in the playground: when parents get involved in their children's disputes
Recent reports have highlighted the difficulties schools face when parents become involved in these disputes.
With the rise of social media, schools may have to manage the fallout when parents take to the internet to criticise other people's children.
If a dispute arises between parents and is carried on away from school, it is advisable for the school to stay out of the dispute. However, schools will need to take action where the dispute takes place on school premises or where it raises a pupil safeguarding concern.
Can parents be kept off school premises?
The DfE has published guidance for schools on preventing bullying (available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/preventing-and-tackling-bullying) which makes the point that schools are private not public spaces and that members of the public (even parents) have no automatic right of entry. Where parents are causing problems on the school premises, schools can ask a parent to leave and may consider barring the parent from school premises. When barring a parent, the school should:
- notify the parent in writing that their implied licence to be on school premises has been revoked (usually only a temporary solution);
- inform the parent of their rights to express their views on the decision to bar;
- review the decision to bar in the light of the parents' representations; and
- inform the parent of how long the bar will be in place.
In serious cases, schools may need to consider involving the police. The police can issue a harassment warning, which can often be enough to prevent a repetition of the problem. Where relevant, a restraining order can be imposed. The penalty for the breach of a restraining order can include a custodial sentence.
Is a pupil being bullied on-line by another child's parents?
Staff should follow the school's safeguarding and child protection procedures where a parent is suspected of intimidating or threatening a pupil at the school. If members of staff have concerns about a child being bullied or targeted on-line by an adult they should raise these concerns with the school’s designated safeguarding lead. As always, if there is a risk of immediate serious harm to a child, a referral should be made immediately to children’s social care and/or to the police.
Remembering the rights of both children and parents
It is important to note that parents retain their right to an annual consultation concerning the educational progress of their child, even when barred from the school site. Arrangements can be made to have senior members of staff present at the consultation and it can be held in an off-site location.
Schools should also make clear to staff that the child of a difficult parent should be treated as an individual and not made to suffer because of the parent's actions. It is unlawful to exclude a pupil simply because of the action of a pupil’s parents.
Setting the ground rules
A parent/school agreement, entered into by all parents, pupils and the school, can be used to outline expectations and standards that each party agrees to abide by, and may include expectations about parent conduct in school and on-line.
Having a policy covering incidents involving abusive, threatening or violent adult visitors to the school can assist staff in responding appropriately and schools should prepare risk assessments covering such an incident. Particular attention should be paid to situations where staff may leave school late and be on their own on school premises. It is also advisable to train reception staff and others in responding to difficult and aggressive visitors to the school.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please contact Alacoque Marvin on 0113 244 6100.
The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors