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Safety clause slays Santa

Pricey CRB checks means school visits have been cut by half in Clement Clarke Moore's classic poem "The Night Before Christmas", there is little mention of the Home Office. But the verse could be due for an update, according to a new report by the anti-vetting organisation, the Manifesto Club.

Santa bookings in schools and community centres are down, because of costly new child protection laws, it claims. One leading agency's bookings have been cut by half since five years ago.

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, which comes into force over the next two years, requires adults who work with children to undergo criminal checks. While vetting Santas is not mandatory, more and more schools are covering their backs.

"Some get around it by saying they'll have someone who's been checked already. Others will simply not take outside people who are not CRB checked," said Josie Appleton, the club's convenor.

One Staffordshire primary school quoted in their minutes: "Santas need to be CRB checked."

"I should love to submit a CRB Enhanced Disclosure application form in the name of Santa Claus, resident at the North Pole, and see what they come up with," writes one teacher on The TES website.

Another reveals that support at Christmas functions will only be carried out by parent teacher association members, whose members have already been checked.

At the same time, there is widespread confusion "at the highest level" over when and why school Santas need to be checked.

"I think the problem is that Santa doesn't know whether he needs to be vetted or not," said John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers.

Child protection laws have given Father Christmas a rocky ride in recent years: one Welsh department store installed a webcam in Santa's grotto.

In similarly unfortunate circumstances, Tim Loughton, the shadow minister for children, was banned from dressing as an elf for a charity grotto, because he had not been vetted.

One mother selling letters from Father Christmas on eBay, advertises herself thus: "The magic of Christmas is here. Let me send you a letter to your child from Santa. I am CRB checked."

James Lovell, director of the Ministry of Fun Santa School in Somerset, admitted checks can be burdensome fro budding Saint Nicolases, especially now they cost up to pound;50.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said only those who have "frequent" or unsupervised contact with children need to be checked but, "if a father acting as Santa happened to have a CRB check, that would be great. Then he could be left on his own."

The Manifesto Club has launched a petition against the vetting laws, signed by 800 professionals, including teachers.


October 2002 A Harrods Santa is sacked for complaining about his "camp" costume and poor quality beard.

December 2004 Two Lancashire primary schools ban parents from taking photos of their nativity plays, citing child protection fears.

December 2005 The DfES publishes advice warning that "terrifying" school Santas could trigger panic attacks.

December 2006 A supply teacher is sacked from a primary school in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, for telling pupils that Santa does not exist.

December 2006 Gordon Brown attacked Sure Start playgroups that replaced Christmas parties with "winter celebrations".

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