Teachers and data-sharing officials turn up the heat on Named Persons

Worries about teachers’ workload and anxiety around Named Person liabilities were at the forefront of today’s Education and Skills Committee evidence session.

Headteacher and EIS member Lorraine McBride told MSPs that being a headteacher was already a “difficult, difficult job”, and said that adding the Named Person duties “makes everything that bit bigger”. She told the committee that headteachers were worried about being liable if they got it wrong, admitting: “We worry ourselves sick every single day.”

Lisa Finnie of the Scottish Guidance Association, a body which helps teachers involved in the personal support of children and young people, said she felt like they were doing three jobs – teaching, work in the school and the 3am job at home.

She argued that asking them to take on the Named Person role would be an impossible task. She told the committee: “It’s like asking the checkout girl to go and fill the shelves when she’s got a queue. You can’t do it. It’s impossible to ask people to do it”.

Senior officials from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) also gave evidence to the committee today.

Dr Ken Macdonald, ICO’s Head of Regions, told MSPs that the ICO was never totally satisfied with the Named Person Bill. He said the original Bill did not meet the criteria of the Data Protection Act.

When asked if he had informed the Scottish Government that he was not satisfied, he responded by saying the Scottish Government had been copied into emails.

NO2NPers will recall that Dr Macdonald was responsible for the 2013 guidance which gave the green light to Named Person information sharing. He was later forced to withdraw it.

He was also pressed about private emails which emerged after the Named Person Supreme Court ruling in which he expressed his disappointment with the judgment. He did not explain what it was about upholding the fundamental human rights of families that he found so disappointing.

And in another blow for the Scottish Government, Maureen Falconer, ICO’s Scotland Regional Manager, told the committee that the Government’s illustrative code of practice was “not fit for purpose”.

The Education and Skills Committee wrote to Deputy First Minister John Swinney two weeks ago asking for a revised code of practice, but this request was rejected.

Dr Macdonald told MSPs that the code of practice was integral to complying with the Supreme Court ruling and without it the committee would find it difficult to come to a conclusion about whether the revised scheme is adequate.

The Scottish Government’s attempt at fixing the Named Person scheme has received repeated criticism in recent weeks from professionals including lawyers, teachers and social workers, who have been giving evidence to the Education and Skills Committee.

NO2NP spokesman Simon Calvert responded today, saying:

“The Named Person scheme is holed below the water line and rapidly sinking under a tsunami of condemnation from experts and those expected to implement it.

“The Government was humiliated in the UK Supreme Court when judges told them their first proposals were unlawful.

“Now John Swinney’s new Bill, which depends on a code of practice yet to be seen, is floundering badly. The draft code has been attacked on all sides by information watchdogs, teachers, lawyers and health visitors.

“The draft code ‘is not fit for purpose’, according to evidence given to MSPs by Maureen Falconer, the ICO’s Scottish regional manager.

“Yet, Mr Swinney has told MSPs he is refusing to give them sight of a final code before they pass his Bill. This is preposterous arrogance.

“The information watchdogs told MSPs it would be difficult for them to make definitive conclusions about the Bill without seeing the final code.

“Mr Swinney should put up. But perhaps he is too feart in case his proposals are rejected.

“The best alternative is to just rip up the Bill and forget it.”

Named Persons pummelled by lawyers and health professionals

Lawyers and health professionals have expressed major concerns about the Named Person information sharing bill.

Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee, Kenny Meechan representing the Law Society of Scotland said teachers and other professionals who have to navigate the complex proposals “will need their lawyer on speed dial”.

Janys Scott QC, on behalf of the Faculty of Advocates, told MSPs that if families don’t know what professionals are going to do with their personal information it may affect what they are willing to share.

She gave the example of a mum who may be hesitant to talk about her post-natal depression with medical professionals if she thinks it might be fed back to her child’s teachers. NO2NP has long argued that the invasive Named Person scheme would damage trust between families and professionals.

Both lawyers said the Scottish Government’s current plans could result in further legal challenges.

The lack of definition of the term “wellbeing” remained a central problem, and concerns were raised about potential confusion over the threshold for intervention by a Named Person.

The Faculty’s written submission to the Committee highlighted “two principal issues” that had been identified by the Supreme Court: “The first was that there was a serious lack of clarity for those implementing the legislation and the second was the lack of safeguards for those affected”.

It warned: “Neither of these issues is easy to resolve and some of the criticisms of the Supreme Court will continue to apply if the Bill as drafted is passed and the accompanying Code of Practice is approved.”

Swinney grilled

Yesterday Education Minister and Deputy First Minister John Swinney was grilled about the Faculty’s concerns. MSPs on the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee asked why he was snubbing the nation’s leading lawyers.

He responded saying: “I disagree with the Faculty of Advocates.”

NO2NP spokesman Simon Calvert commented on the Deputy First Minister’s response saying: “It is quite astonishing that having been condemned by the Supreme Court the Government is still not willing to listen to legal advice.”

Health professionals were also invited to give evidence to the Education and Skills Committee today.

Royal College of Nursing Scotland’s Policy Officer Lorna Greene said the ‘duty’ on professionals to ‘consider’ sharing private information on families could have “quite a significant impact in the form of leading to defensive practice”.

She warned that by putting in the duty to consider they were “leading professionals towards what might become a tick-box exercise and which could take away from meaningful practice” and commented that it was a “very vague strange concept”.

Annette Holliday Health Visitor and Unite member told MSPs: “There’s nervousness about where responsibilities lie around delivering of Named Person services.”

Swinney told MSPs yesterday that “the law must be crystal clear”. It seems to us and to anyone who is listening, that the law in its current form is anything but clear.

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