It is important to respect confidentiality if we want to gain and keep respect of other adults and parents in the settings, although this is most difficult to maintain. It is crucial to reassure children, young people and adults that any information about them is kept confidential and only used where and when necessary and only for the duration required. In fact, it is their right to privacy to have this information kept confidential and not passed on for others to talk about. Parents and children need to know that their home details will be safe from others. As a member of teaching or non-teaching staff, it is important not to violate their trust or put them at risk of harm by divulging personal information. But that it will only use where and when necessary. The main aim of confidentiality is to ensure that there are clear instructions on the limits of information exchange and these guidelines are followed when passing on knowledge about pupils. Confidential information includes information about a child’s allergies, special educational needs or individual education plan, medical records, discussions, registers, statements, comments, reports and opinions. Information is to be shared on a “need to know” basis; this means that only the members of staff working closely with the child or giving special training are entitled to know certain information.
School’s staff must never pass on information acquired at work in casual conversations within or outside school. When practitioners are asked a question that concerns confidential information about a pupil, it is better to check with the line manager before saying anything. Practitioners should always record the reasons for their decision in the child/young person’s case file, whether the decision is to share information or not. At work, we are in a role of professional trust and we are not allowed to share information about other pupils in casual conversations with the other parents.
As teaching assistants, we must explain to the child/young person and, if appropriate, any adult with parental responsibility:
• the purpose for which the information is being recorded;
• where and for how long the record will be kept;
• the circumstances in which it may be shared with other people;
• any other people and agencies who may have or may be given access to the information.
Although the school and its staff are bound by law to handle information about children in a confidential way and share it only with relevant and responsible people, pupils and adults must be reassured that sensitive information will not be misused. In fact, all adults need to feel secure in the knowledge that any confidential information will not be passed on to others, to become the source of gossip or interest. However, there may be cases where information sharing is essential to enable early intervention. Practitioners should explain to children, young people and their families at the outset, openly and honestly, what and how information will or could be shared and seek their agreement.
The school’s policy on confidentiality should provide sufficient guidelines for staff about the everyday practice of information sharing. The confidentiality policy must have its legal roots in documents like: Every Child Matters 2003, Children Act 2004 and Data Protection Act 1998. According to these laws, every educational setting is only entitled to ask for information that is directly relevant to the education and development of the child. This information is considered confidential and must only be used for the purpose it was gathered for. It should therefore concern health and medical information, records form previous schools and records for special educational needs. This means that most information that is collected and held in school or other settings will be confidential. Passing on information to others would be in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. This is the reason why parental consent need to be given before we can contact other professionals. Even if we attend a meeting where we need to tell some confidential matter about a child, we should make sure that we let others know about our obligations or limitations. Most of the time a parental consent needs to be given before passing any information to other professionals and in most cases, it is obligatory; however, the school has a legal obligation to disclose information if there is any indication of the child or young adult being at risk. If this is the case, then we should be open and honest in all discussions with the child, young adult and their family and we should explain why, what, how and who the information will or could be shared with. Agreement for the information to be shared should be sought unless it is unsafe or inappropriate to do so.
In some situations, such as when a child has a serious medical condition, for example asthma or an allergy to some particular food, it will be very important for everyone in the setting to know about it. In this case photographs of those children may be displayed in the staffroom or in the kitchen so that every member of staff is aware of those children. But before doing this we should discuss with parents about this information and remove them if the setting is used by other organisations in the evening.
In conclusion, children and young people need to be able to know that their information will be kept confidential and they won’t be put at risk of teasing or bullying by other pupils, and their parents should be reassured that the school is providing the correct care and support for them and their children.