THE supervision regime in Scotland’s school playgrounds needs to be tightened amid fears that children as young as four are left unattended for long spells, campaigners have warned.
Some councils have blamed funding cuts for the absence of adults in the playground before the school bell goes in the morning, according to a petition which has been lodged at Holyrood.
It comes ten years after the death of 11-year-old Rory Blackhall, who was murdered after being dropped off in the morning for school in Livingston. There is no evidence that the youngster was abducted from school grounds, but it did prompt all primaries in West Lothian to change policy and ensure playground supervisors are in place 20 minutes before the start of the school day.
Scotland’s council leaders insist they treat school safety with “paramount importance”.
The Scottish Government says it has no plans to change the law to ensure youngsters are supervised during this period, despite campaigners’ claims this would “minimise the risk” they face.
There is widespread variation across Scotland in the approach taken by individual schools to the issue, campaigner Lisa Willis has stated in her petition.
“Playground supervision cannot prevent every accident or incident, but it will increase the security of the environment in which pupils are placed on arriving at school and minimise risk,” she states.
Willis, from Aberdeenshire, has now set up a Facebook campaign entitled Keeping Our Children Safe at Primary Schools in Scotland.
She says that supervision is particularly important for children arriving on school transport between 8.35am and 8.55am.
“Parents have devolved responsibility to the local authority once they have boarded the bus,” she adds.
“Due to pick-up times arranged with transport contractors, some pupils can arrive up to 20 minutes before the school building opens. Some are as young as four years old.
“Parents entrust their children to the local authority, who in turn have a duty of care towards these children ‘in loco parentis’. This means the local authorities should provide the same care for these children as would be expected of a parent.”
The law currently obliges most primary and special schools to have at least one member of staff in the playground at break times, but it makes no mention of the period before school starts when children arrive on school transport.
The petition says that only with a formal early morning playground supervision policy that takes account of the safety risks in the playground, will schools fulfil their “duty to take reasonable care for the safety of pupils when under their charge” in line with the Schools (Safety and Supervision of Pupils) (Scotland) Regulations 1990 & Education (Scotland) Act 1980.
Willis says legislative guidance to councils should make provision for the safety of children in their charge from the minute they enter the school bus, to the minute they arrive back home at the end of the school day. She says she has been told by “several schools” that councils are only currently required to have a member of staff “point of contact” inside the building during the 20-minute period before school starts, and there is no “legal requirement” for the teacher to be physically in the playground.
Councillor Stephanie Primrose, local authority group Cosla’s education spokeswoman, said: “Scotland’s councils treat the safety and security of children within their schools, whatever the time of day, with paramount importance. They are fully aware of the longstanding regulations relating to this particular matter and have appropriate provisions in place based on local need, requirement and circumstance.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Current regulations set out local authorities’ responsibility to secure the safety of pupils when under their charge. There are currently no plans to amend this legislation.”