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Whistle blowing is the mechanism by which adults can voice their concerns, made in good faith, without fear of repercussion. Each employer should have a clear and accessible whistle blowing policy that meets the terms of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. Adults who use whistleblowing procedure should be made aware that their employment rights are protected. In fact, adults should acknowledge their individual responsibilities to bring matters of concern to the attention of managers and/or other relevant external agencies. This is particularly important where the welfare of children may be at risk.
Blowing the whistle in suspicious situations requires courage but the school’s whistle blowing policy should provide protection for those who feel the need to voice their concerns against their co-workers, on the basis of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. In fact, every school has whistle blowing policies and procedures and these policies are put in place to provide protection for the person against victimisation or reprisals from other members of staff (physical or verbally) when the concerns are genuine and accurate. If a member of staff is the victim of reprisals, then an employment’s tribunal may be able to take immediate action. The whistle blowing policy provides a voice to the concerned employees and others in the educational setting who are well aware of the malpractices and feel that someone is not doing their job in the specified areas. If any concerns about malpractice or misconduct in a school setting are raised against another member of staff, then this should be reported to the safeguarding officer of the school.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act was introduced in 1999 to give greater protection to whistle-blowers. It tells us which disclosures can be protected, the circumstances in which such disclosures are protected and the people who may be protected. The Standards Board for England’s Whistleblowing Policy and Procedure, are set out, in line with the Act.
Whistle blowers are protected for public interest, to encourage people to speak out if they find any malpractice in an organisation or a workplace.
To be protected as a whistle blower, professionals need to make a “qualifying disclosure” about the malpractice. This could be a disclosure about:
? Criminal offences, such as a fraud;
? Failure to comply with a legal obligation;
? someone’s health and safety are in danger;
? The school is breaking the law, for example doesn’t have the right insurance;
? Miscarriages of justice;
? Actual damage to the environment;
? A deliberate attempt to cover up any of the above.
A qualifying disclosure will be protected only if they report their concern to the appropriate person and in the correct way. In fact, they must make the disclosure in good faith (with honesty), the information, and any allegation they make, have to be substantially true. The whistle blower must think about what is disturbing and why. All concerns need to be reported to the relevant person when the time is right, and background details, names, witness names (if any), dates and places should always be recorded in writing. The procedure to follow if an employee wishes to raise a concern is as follows:
If an employee has a concern about malpractice or misconduct at work, they can be raised verbally or in writing and should include the names of individuals against whom the allegations are made, the background, the nature of the malpractice that is alleged with relevant dates and the reasons for the concern.
Concerns should be raised first with their Line manager. However, if the disclosure concerns them, the employee should write to the Chief Executive or the HR Manager. Disclosures involving the Chief Executive should be raised with the Chair of the Board. Disclosures concerning a member of the senior management team should be raised with the Chief Executive via the employee’s line manager. If the concern is regarding the HR Manager, the matter should then be raised with the employee’s line manager or another member of the senior management team. Following an official complaint, the school management is legally required to give a response within five working days and call a meeting where concerns can be shared with an investigation committee. The person bringing up the charges will be asked to prepare a written document about detailing the allegations and any supporting information.
The investigating manager has the responsibilities to inform the individuals involved about the seriousness of the allegations and provide any supporting evidence; advise in writing of the procedure to be followed; give the accused the opportunity to respond in person or in writing to the claims made; and inform both parties of their right to be accompanied at any interview by a trade union representative or a colleague. Where necessary the Standards Board can provide support, counselling or mediation to those subject to investigation in order to ensure normal working relationships are resumed as effectively as possible.
During the investigation both parties are kept up to date with the progress made. Both parties involved are given the opportunity to tell their version of the story and to defend any complaints made against them.
If following the disclosure concerns, the employee has been victimised or suffered detrimental treatment such as being demoted or denied promotion, because of blowing the whistle, they can take their case to an Employment Tribunal. The investigation must be carried out in a discreet way, as required by the Data Protection Act 1998. Both the whistle blower and the person charged has to be informed about the investigation and its outcomes, even though some pieces of information might be retained in order to respect confidentiality. In fact, maintaining the confidentiality of both the whistle blower and the accused is crucial at all times; if the employee wishes to protect his/her identity, it will not be disclosed without consent.
If the matter is dealt with under the Whistle blowing policy, then the employee will be informed of the name of the investigating manager and how they can be contacted. The receiving manager will always inform the employee in writing about the process.
In case the employee who raised the concern is not satisfied with the final outcome or action proposed, he/she may appeal against the decision to a more senior manager within the Standards Board. However, if the employee still is dissatisfied, he/she can raise the matter further by contacting an outside agency such as, the National Audit Office or the Communities and Local Government.
Acting upon suspicions and blow the whistle when we experience malpractice or misconduct from colleagues could be a dreadful experience, but we always have to keep in mind that the pupils’ health, well-being and safety might be affected also by the actions of our co-workers. That is why law also protects the whistle blower and schools should always encourage staff to be sincere about every concern or suspect.

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