From the Scottish Sunday Express, 15 June 2014. Story by Ben Borland.
A YOUNG man’s life was almost ruined by school and council snooping as a result of living in the pilot area for the SNP’s state guardian scheme.
Oli Smith, now 19, was a high-flying student at his local high school in the Black Isle before he developed ME, or chronic fatigue syndrome, in 2008.
He missed months of schooling and his parents, Bev and Bryan, begged for help. However, despite the named person scheme, the family insist they were treated with contempt.
At one stage, after Oli used a swearword to describe his deputy head teacher in a post on his blog, his state guardian supported a decision that he should be reported to the police.
His parents were stunned when two officers arrived to interview Oli at home in Fortrose during his English Standard Grade exam.
The proposal to introduce a named person for every under-18 in the country was introduced as a pilot in the Highlands five years ago and has since been lauded as a “great success”.
However, campaigners say this does not take into account a number of long-running complaints from families who say the policy is intrusive.
His story emerged after the Young ME Sufferers Trust announced on Friday it would be joining a legal bid to halt the Scottish Government’s state guardian plans.
The charity described the policy, now law thanks to the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, as an “oppressive, unwarranted and illegal intrusion into family life”.
Last night, Oli – now studying for a computer games degree at Abertay University – said:
“It is something that is taking the control of their own lives away from young people.
“The named person is supposed to put the child first but my views were never listened to at any stage.”
“Without scaremongering, I’m a science fiction fan and this policy seems like it is turning Scotland into a dystopian vision of the future.
“The scary thing is to think that if everything put through now had been in place when I was at school, I’ve no idea where I would be – I probably would not have been allowed to stay with my family.
“We were labelled all manner of things and I daren’t even think where I might have ended up if my named person had been backed by legal statute as they are now.”
When Oli’s illness began, his parents say that his guidance teacher accused him of “playing up” and threatened to call at their house every morning to get him up and into school.
At the end of the year, his parents discovered the youngster had attended sick bay 17 times in two months without them being informed.
Oli repeated his S3 year and was officially diagnosed with ME, yet his parents claim that teachers would still make “openly derogatory” comments about his non-attendance.
After several more years of difficulties, Oli managed to sit five Standard grade exams with the help of a private tutor and home schooling.
However, he was left very anxious about attending school and having any contact with some members of staff.
His parents say they had requested several times for Oli’s named person to step in and help resolve the problems, but they were ignored.
With his exams coming up and suffering from “uncertainty and confusion”, he made his regrettable online comment about the school’s depute head teacher.
She was monitoring his blog and – with the backing of Oli’s named person but without informing the family – made a complaint to the police. Mrs Smith said the officers were apologetic when they arrived, adding:
“They took no action apart from a friendly chat but the visit was devastating for Oli and highly detrimental to his exams”.
Oli was then permanently excluded and – although this punishment was overturned – he moved to a new school 30 miles away for his final two years with his parents renting a flat for him nearby.
However, the council did not remove the exclusion from his records as agreed and although the situation improved, Oli suffered a number of relapses and endured a “chaotic, stressful” end to his schooling.
Mrs Smith said:
“The Scottish Government say the named person scheme worked so well in the Highlands but we know it didn’t work for us. It wasn’t just falling slightly short, it just wasn’t happening at all. The council were happy to ignore the groundswell and say how well it was going, even though the feedback was gathered from a very small group of families.
“Barnardo’s also said it had been a success in the Highlands even though its report was based only on the experience of looked-after [children directly or indirectly under the care of the local authority] children.”
The family had hoped to put the experience behind them but with the named person policy about to be rolled out across Scotland and backed up by law, they are preparing to join the growing campaign against it.
However, for Oli, although he still suffers from fatigue, he is finding out that life as an adult with no state interference is a breath of fresh air.
He said: “Where I am now is entirely different to where I was while at school, I feel I am able to live my own life.”
A Highland Council spokeswoman said:
“The council takes a firm approach to abusive or threatening comments on social media.”