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DBS: The great unknown for many trainee teachers

A DBS check will play a vital role in a trainee teacher's life – so why is there so little information available?

DBS check_editorial

A DBS check will play a vital role in a trainee teacher's life – so why is there so little information available?

Ucas applications are open. Train to Teach events will be rolling out nationwide in the coming weeks. The 2019 teaching recruitment season has started.

I believe these events should be co-hosted by the Home Office, since it is so deeply enmeshed in recruitment, including right to work post-Brexit. Tes’ own #letthemteach campaign has highlighted some of the issues here. For UK nationals, the Home Office’s Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) will play an important role in a new recruit’s life, and yet the topic is barely touched on at these fairs.

My DBS story started when a school I wanted to volunteer with rightly requested that I get a certificate. I brought in proof of address and photo ID and was sent an email by the school to complete my address history. Then I waited. And waited some more. It took seven weeks for my certificate to arrive. I have been told that one school waited for five months (months!) for one clearance, but that another came through in 48 hours. London’s Metropolitan Police force has a lousy reputation for speed (or lack thereof) in this area, although I am told it has recently improved.

I took my certificate into school and started my volunteer attendance. My biggest mistake was letting the overworked, pressured HR person at the school hang on to the certificate thinking it was in some way their property (the applicant's institution pays a fee for each search to its DBS service, in this case Babcock International, in addition to a subscription). When my last day came round I couldn’t find the person and when I later emailed her she said she had given it back to me. She hadn’t, so I was a bit stuck. I called the DBS service about a replacement to be told that duplicate certificates can only be issued within 93 days (why 93 days?) I was calling on day 95 after its issue. An individual cannot apply for themselves; an institution has to apply on my behalf.

Eventually the HR person supplied me with a screenshot of my certificate. I innocently believed that this might suffice for, say, a day’s volunteer experience. That hope was shattered a couple of weeks ago when a school I interviewed with asked that I come in to spend time in class with the teacher I would be working with (I am currently applying for teaching assistant roles). When I emailed my screenshot, the invitation was promptly rescinded by the school’s business manager and my application went no further. My "career" feels a little holed below the waterline: unable to get many interviews because of my lack of experience and unable to build on the experience that I do have because I do not have the requisite piece of paper.

The reason I believe Home Office advice should be available at Train to Teach events is that there is now an online service that trainees can subscribe to (another expense!). This allows potential employers to log in to your details and see your clearance without the need for paper. Trainee teachers must however keep their subscriptions up to date: I know of one person who left the profession, is now trying to get agency work and is facing difficulties precisely for this reason.

I would ask all the presenters at upcoming events to include this important information upfront, right after they have covered off GCSE and degree requirements, as this is an important part of a prospective teacher’s pre-qualification package. Each school does its own search on employing a candidate, which is a good earner for the providers of the services concerned, but having your own update will enable faster entry into a job.

Meanwhile the National Audit Office (NAO) issued a damning report on the DBS update service in February of this year. Project overruns since 2013, cost increases and the strong possibility that multinational conglomerate Tata will not finish the job by the time its contract ends were all cited in its stinging conclusions. The fact that “the update service has been used less than expected” (hint: because we are not informed of it by the DfE) and that predicted cost savings have not been passed on to customers “who are often public sector employers such as schools and healthcare providers”. The NAO also said: “There is no check on what employers have done with the information provided by DBS. Government does not know how many people this information prevented from working with children and vulnerable adults.”

My experience is that there is inconsistency in individual schools' application of DBS standards, ranging from the aforementioned barred incident to attending a school for a number of weeks without producing a certificate at all.

Let there be no doubt about why we have such stringent safeguards. A dedicated agency was set up because of tragedies such as the Soham murders on school premises. The caretaker who was later convicted of that horrific double murder had been employed just prior to tighter regulations being introduced.

When school interviews are as focused on safeguarding as they are teaching, and when the agency is clearly struggling, the least that can be expected is that the 2019 cohort are better informed than their predecessors. I wish them well.

David Hall is applying to become a teacher. For 25 years, he worked in communications for a range of clients. He tweets @campdavid

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