Confidentiality is an important boundary. As an Advisor you may be privy to personal information about your tutees for example information pertaining to a disability or life situation. All discussions between an Advisor and advisee should be handled sensitively and Advisors should endeavour to respect advisees requests for confidentiality and disclosure. However, Advisors should be clear that they cannot guarantee complete confidentiality. You could use a form of words like those below when you first meet your advisees to make them aware of this before issues arise.
"As your Advisor, in general our discussions will be confidential, unless we both agree that it would be helpful to disclose relevant details, for example to our School Student Support Officer or Senior Tutor. However, I am not permitted to maintain confidentiality if there is a significant and immediate risk to your health and safety or that of others."
Remember that you are not offering a formal ‘confidential service’. This type of confidentiality is more typical in a professional service such as counselling, where there are professional codes and procedures that underpin client confidentiality. Instead, you are offering student support, where they can reasonably expect that what they tell you will be handled sensitively, and only shared where there is a need to do so.
In general, you should not share any information about a student outside Queen Mary without their explicit consent, which ideally should be written, so that there is evidence if required. This includes disclosing to anyone over the phone or via email that an individual is a student at Queen Mary.
The only exception to this is where you believe that there may be a risk to the life of the student or someone else. This lawful basis is known as ‘vital interests’ and generally only applies to matters of life and death.
- Any requests from third parties (Police, family, whoever) for information about a QM student should be directed to email@example.com
- Unless there is a risk to life, you should never disclose anything to a third party, whoever they say they are. This includes even confirming whether a student is a student at Queen Mary or not.
- If you get a call suggesting that a student’s life may be at risk (g. I have not heard from XXX in two weeks and I am very worried about them), you should advise the caller to call the emergency services (dial 999). They are in the best position to tell the police what they need to know. Sharing data about the student will not mitigate the risk.
Parents or legal guardians
If you take a call from a parent/guardian about a student, you should:
- Listen sympathetically to their concerns and take the student’s name and department.
- Do not indicate that the student is enrolled at Queen Mary, but offer to pass on any message if you are able
- Even if the student is under 18, this makes no difference to the approach
You are advised to keep a record of your meetings with an advisee. Your department may use Co-Tutor or another system to facilitate this.
This record might be as simple as:
- Recording attendance at a meeting
- Any key matters discussed
- Brief notes of any action plans made with the student to include your responsibilities, their responsibilities
The record might take the form of an email sent as a follow-up to your tutorial, typed up either by the student or you. If you are using Co-Tutor you can copy an e-mail directly into the system by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reasons for keeping a record include:
- It provides evidence of a problem raised or decision made that may be important but difficult recall at a later date
- It is a useful prompt for the next time you both meet
- It is a useful way to track progress
Mental Health Conditions
According to the advice given to the sector by agencies such as the Equality Challenge Unit as per our duties the Equality Act (2010), if a student informs one member of staff that they have a disability, including a mental health diagnosis, the entire institution is deemed to be aware of this disclosure.
This is particularly important if the disclosure is of a mental health diagnosis, as the university was advised by the Senior Coroner for the City of London in a prevention of future deaths report dated 16th April 2020 that any mental health condition disclosed by a student must be notified to the Disability and Dyslexia Service and the student must be advised to make an appointment with a Disability Adviser for Autism and Mental Health. Both of these actions should then be documented in any file notes systems.
As such, it is imperative that you ask the student if they declared this mental health condition to Queen Mary either at application (e.g. through UCAS) or enrolment. This information is stored on MySIS and should be visible to you. If you are in any doubt about whether the student has registered or contacted the Disability and Dyslexia Service you can send an email to email@example.com, copying in the student, to explain what they have disclosed to you. DDS are based on the 3rd floor of the Francis Bancroft building and can also be contacted by phone on 020 7882 2756.
See more information about mental health.
Support for students when the University is closed
Refer to information about support available to students when the University is closed, including access to the 24/7 Wellbeing Helpline (which is staffed by trained counsellors).