Stricter policies 'may be worse' for pupils

A Hamilton child advocacy group is calling for stricter policies around student/teacher interaction, but the president of the national principals' federation fears policies could be counterproductive.

Child Matters chief executive Anthea Simcock made the call for more concrete interaction policies in the wake of the case of Northland deputy principal James Robertson Parker.

Parker, 37, this week admitted 49 charges of sexually abusing schoolboys.

But New Zealand Principal's Federation president Paul Drummond was concerned that such stringent policy would prevent teachers who genuinely cared for children from supporting those in real need.

Mrs Simcock said if Parker's school had an interaction policy, the abuse that occurred could have either been prevented altogether or stopped much sooner.

"The issue that arose very clearly is that this man was taking children to his home. It appears the school did not think this was at all inappropriate."

As well as home visits, Mrs Simcock said a policy should address when it was appropriate for a child and teacher to be alone together, and how both parties could be protected if such time was necessary, appropriate physical contact and the safe transporting of children off the school property.

Mrs Simcock said it was imperative all staff were well versed on the policies and procedures, which would need to be tailored to suit the needs of the individual school or preschool.

"My concern is we're speaking to a number of teachers around New Zealand who say, ‘I think we've got a policy about this somewhere'.

"Parents can say, ‘What's your child protection policy? How are you keeping my child safe?' "

Mr Drummond agreed that schools needed a well-publicised, confidential concerns-and-complaints policy, but he felt an interaction policy could prevent children from getting genuine help.

"It could be counterproductive," he said.

"I know of instances where children have been looked after in legitimate and caring ways. To actually have a rule to say you will not have children in your house, I think that is not the right move, but there are certain ways we can be better at screening risky behaviour."

Having been a teacher for 30 years, Mr Drummond said it had always been a case of "male teacher 101" to manage your own risk and always behave in a manner that was beyond reproach.

As such, he commended the Pamapuria community for voicing their concerns about Parker.

"It's proof that this [concerns-and-complaints] policy can get people who shouldn't be in our schools out.

"It would have taken some courage, and it's the first step in that community's healing."

Waikato Times