SCHOOLS and nurseries are being urged to treat separated dads fairly, following a family break up, amid concerns that some are giving mothers a veto over communication, or treating fathers as 'suspects' before they will accept their involvement.
Two national charities have highlighted concerns over the way some schools approach non-resident parents, who can be mums, but are usually dads, after a separation or divorce.
Children in Scotland and Families Need Fathers (FNF) Scotland have produced a report Helping Children Learn which points out that schools have a statutory duty to communicate with non-resident parents, while local authorities must have a plan for involving them in educational matters.
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Despite this, separated dads can find it hard to persuade schools to keep them informed. One told researchers: "The school ... wouldn't send me anything on the grounds that it might cause 'distress'. They refused to discuss how they had come to that decision... I don't know whether it was my daughter or 'another person' who might be distressed. I don't know what enquiry the school made into this 'distress', or whether that's it forever".
Another said a page for parental feedback was routinely removed from his copy of his daughter's school report when it was sent to him, with only her mother getting one. A dad who made an appointment to go and visit his daughter's nursery and update them about his changed situation heard nothing more until a text from his ex-wife informed him that any further communication would be through her.
And a father who phoned up to give a school his new contact details said: "The school receptionist came across as very hostile and reeled off a list of the evidence I'd need to give them to prove who I was.
"I felt like I was suddenly a stranger - even though I was the same dad I was before we separated - and now to be treated as a suspect."
Ian Maxwell, national manager of FNF Scotland, said: "If there is a court order restricting contact then that is fine, but it isn't up to either of the parents to decide who gets told about matters relating to education. In most cases there isn't an order , but we find people get told 'the mother of the children doesn't want you to have any information and that is it'."
He had sympathy with schools for not wanting to get caught up in marital conflict, he said, "I'm sure schools don't want to get involved, but they should be even-handed, not just reacting to what the mum is telling them. They need to say 'you are both entitled to this information.'"
“It is ten years now since the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act urged schools to ‘work hard’ to engage with fathers in general and non-resident fathers in particular and to treat both parents with equal respect."
The report is intended for schools and other educational establishments, to help them think about how best to involve non-resident parents and manage any difficulties, he said, although it can also help parents know their rights and approach a school or nursery in a calm manner.
"We hope this guide will help schools and education authorities work towards a more inclusive approach, for the benefit of all involved, our children above all,” Mr Maxwell said.
Based on research and evidence, the guide says keeping both parents involved can benefit children in terms of academic achievement, behaviour and relationships, including with the absent parent. Involving Dads can be good for the wider school community.
Researchers found considerable variation between schools and between authorities in the effort they appear to make to reach out to non-resident parents, with South Lanarkshire and East Lothian highlighted for good practise. Glasgow and Edinburgh educational authorities had reasonable policies for involving separated mums or dads, while schools in smaller and rural councils tended to have less thorough approaches.
Marion Macleod, Children in Scotland Policy Manager, said: “We know that in general, with some individual exceptions, children benefit from the active support and involvement of both parents. This is particularly true in terms of educational attainment.
"Nobody was saying 'we don't give non resident parents information' but the reality was that fair and equitable policies might not be happening in practice because schools hadn't got clear guidance.
“We appreciate that often schools or other education bodies might find it difficult to manage differing parental expectations when families break down, but we know that the child benefits immeasurably when clear, transparent and constructive involvement is achieved. This is the best practice we must strive for.”