The schoolgirl to whom the council has been ordered to apologise claimed to be the victim of up to 50 instances of bullying in her first year alone at the Anderson High School.
The request to say sorry came this week from the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman after the girl’s mother complained that methods of recording and collating such incidents were unclear and that the procedures for managing them were not adhered to.
In his report, ombudsman Jim Martin upheld the complaints and as well as seeking changes to the way bullying is handled at the school asked for a written apology to be sent to the family.
It is understood that the ombudsman’s ruling has caused consternation at the school because staff involved with the girl, who has now left Shetland with her family and live in Worcestershire, believe he has entirely accepted their side of the story.
The report is also at odds with the fact that the Anderson High’s pastoral care was singled out for special mention in the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIe) report into the school, published in January 2008.
“The school’s arrangements for child protection and pupils’ care and welfare were very efficient and effective. Almost all pupils felt happy and safe in the school,” that report said.
“Policies and procedures to counteract bullying and promote safe use of the internet were implemented effectively. An efficient system enabled staff to raise concerns about individual pupils.
“Pupils knew how to make personal concerns known to staff and how to make a complaint. The school provided very strong support to the families of pupils with additional support needs.
“All support staff, including staff from external agencies, collaborated well to support the pastoral needs of all pupils very effectively. There were very good systems in the school to alert staff to pupils’ individual circumstances, including their medical conditions.”
But, speaking to The Shetland Times on Thursday, the girl’s mother said: “I think bullying is something which needs to be addressed in schools generally. People need to be open and honest about what is happening.”
The girl’s mother, referred to in the ombudsman’s report only as Mrs C, also complained that the council failed to convene a Complaints Review Committee (CRC) to hear her complaints about the council’s social work department.
The family moved the girl to stay with her grandmother 400 miles away so that she could attend another school after making a complaint initially to the council on 26th February 2007. Unsatisfied with the council’s response, Mrs C complained to the ombudsman.
“Mrs C complained … that the school had not appeared to believe child A’s reports of bullying and as a result had not handled the matter appropriately, resulting in the family’s decison to send her to another school and to live with a relative some considerable distance away from her family.
“Additionally Mrs C was concerned that the published reports of incidents of bullying in the school did not accord with her recollection of the amount of incidents child A alone had reported and that she had noted in child A’s pupil progress report.”
The ombudsman recommended that the council “ensure the local policies are adhered to and explanations are recorded within the documentation when there is a departure from the prescribed procedure” and “apologise to Mrs C and child A for the confusion caused as a result of diverting from the documented procedure”.
In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the SIC’s schools service said it had accepted in full the recommendations made in the report.
It said: “The schools service in Shetland is fully committed to preventing bullying and to ensuring that when it does occur, incidents are dealt with appropriately.”
Meanwhile head of legal and administration Jan Riise said his department acknowledged the ombudsman’s findings in regard to the delay in convening the panel to hear the complaint about social work.
He said the recruitment of a new, highly experienced panel composed mainly of people unaffected by elections should remove the prospect of such a thing happening again.