Teachers wrongly suspended from work in safeguarding 'chaos', unions warn

Stephen Exley

Controversial new guidance for schools on child protection laws is causing “chaos” and leading to dozens of primary school staff being wrongly suspended from work, unions have warned.

According to official guidance, staff could face disqualification from their jobs if they share a home with a person who has committed a serious violent or sexual crime or been banned from working with children.

But unions say that massive confusion over the "disqualification by association" rules has led to numerous cases where school staff have been erroneously barred from school, with hundreds of others left in “limbo” for several weeks while their cases are dealt with.

Support staff union Unison says it is aware of more than 300 cases so far. A spokeswoman for Ofsted, which deals with waiver applications from school employees affected, told TES it has received 259 applications to date, of which just 17 have been granted.

The remainder, the spokeswoman added, include “those that are not relevant or do not meet the criteria and those in progress”.

Teachers and support staff who work with children under the age of six are affected, along with those who supervise activities out of school hours, such as breakfast or after-school clubs, with pupils up to the age of eight.

The rules were brought in for childminders and nurseries in 2009, but in October the Department for Education stressed that they also apply to people working in primaries. As a result, schools and local authorities across the country have been asking staff to declare any previous convictions and cautions of people living in their household.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT union for school leaders’, said one primary head had decided to leave their job in order to prevent family secrets being exposed.

“At the moment we’re receiving around a dozen calls a day about this,” he said. “It’s the number one issue for our members. If a school leader is suspended, it is very visible in the school community and can be a very unpleasant situation, trying to explain it to parents.

“For staff with long, unblemished service to a school, it is an insult; this legislation isn’t designed for schools and is causing chaos. Every local authority seems to be using a different interpretation of the rules.”

A DfE spokesman said: “Schools and governing bodies should use their judgement when deciding which school staff are covered and where it is deemed necessary take action.”

Read the full article in the 30 January edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

Related stories

Safeguarding delays putting children at risk, heads warn – 20 January 2015

Female genital mutilation: teenage girl’s campaign takes off - 7 Feb 2014

 ‘Common sense’ on safeguarding leaves schools ‘exposed’  - 24 September 2010

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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