Parents will not see teachers' 'disparaging' WhatsApp messages

By Andrew Picken
BBC Scotland News

  • Published
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Aberdeenshire Council said the WhatsApp messages were inappropriate

A council was right to not tell parents that teachers had swapped "disparaging" WhatsApp messages about their children, a review has concluded.

The staff at schools in Aberdeenshire were dealt with under disciplinary procedures but the affected pupils' parents were not informed.

An independent review ruled some of the messages were "disparaging" but did not put the children at harm.

Scotland's children's commissioner said the parents should have been told.

The watchdog said the review's "narrow terms of reference set by the council" does not address its concerns and is seeking an urgent meeting with the local authority.

Aberdeenshire Council has apologised for the incident and said it had dealt with "appropriately and proportionately".

In May, BBC Scotland revealed that a whistleblower sent the contents of the teachers' WhatsApp messages to Aberdeenshire Council and other bodies including the children's commissioner and the General Teaching Council Scotland.

Included were messages, some of which date back to 2018, with comments about individual children and their behaviour in the classroom.

At the time Aberdeenshire Council decided not to tell the parents as they ruled the exchanges did not give any child protection concerns.

No risk of harm

The council commissioned Mhairi Grant, chairwoman of a child protection committee in a different local authority area, to review its actions.

She concluded: "The messages at the centre of this review were indiscreet and at some parts disparaging and certainly not what is expected from a professional working with children.

"However, I do not find that the messages themselves or any commentary therein gave cause for concern that a particular child or children in general had been harmed or were at risk of harm."

She added: "The suggestion by the children's commissioner that the content of the messages should be shared with children and their parents I strongly disagree with.

"Some considerable time has passed since they were written. The teachers involved have been dealt with via appropriate processes and it would be unnecessarily upsetting for children and parents to read these messages."

In in a letter to Aberdeenshire Council in November last year, Scotland's children commissioner said the WhatsApp messages contained "unprofessional, abusive and degrading" references to children with additional support needs who attended schools in the area.

Nick Hobbs, head of advice and investigations at the commissioner's office, said: "We are disappointed but not surprised that this report does not address the bulk of the concerns the commissioner raised with Aberdeenshire Council about this case.

"We have repeatedly made clear to the council that the children's rights issues engaged go beyond simply child protection."

Mr Hobbs added that the "failure to tell the children and their families about these messages, either at the time or subsequently, denies their right to complain, to seek redress, and to receive an apology from the council".

'Matter is now closed'

Laurence Findlay, Aberdeenshire's Council's director of education, said: "The situation which led to the release of this report was both unprofessional and unfortunate.

"As soon as the incident came to light, it was dealt with through the council's disciplinary procedure.

"To parents of pupils at Aberdeenshire schools, it is important you know that the safety of your young people is our top priority.

"This matter was dealt with appropriately and proportionately. I am sorry on behalf of the council that this happened. I feel that the matter is now closed."