Balance risk and challenge

16th November 2007 at 00:00
Move out of comfort zone, urges minister. Emma Seith reports.Current disclosure laws are "beyond a joke", according to the Minister for Schools and Skills.

If the robust views of Maureen Watt are to prevail, following the current consultation on a new system for protecting children and vulnerable groups, many of the existing regulations look like they might not survive.

Ms Watt claimed there were wide variations in the way child protection was handled by local authorities. Sometimes councils used child protection as an "excuse not to do things", she suspected.

"Obviously you have got to do risk assessments and have the correct number of supervisors with children," the minister continued. "But I think we should be striking a balance between being risk averse and showing children the world is an exciting place. I went paragliding the other week to get out of my comfort zone. We have got to challenge ourselves and our children."

She revealed that the Government was looking to make the process "much easier". In future, it might be more prudent to have "one form per person" instead of the current situation where someone working in a number of positions with children has to undergo multiple disclosure checks.

Ms Watt's comments came in response to teachers' claims that many schools had become too "risk averse".

Peter Haviland, a modern languages teacher at Anderson High in Lerwick, told her: "More and more measures have been brought in for child protection reasons, which is understandable. But at the same time, those of us working in international education would like not just to talk about countries but let the pupils actually visit them."

Ms Watt was speaking to teachers attending the International Education Masterclass, run by Learning and Teaching Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government, at Stirling University last week.

Mr Haviland claimed many schools had been forced to abandon exchange programmes because "headteachers or local authorities have taken fright".

He described himself as fortunate because his local authority had allowed him to continue Anderson High's German exchange, which involves pupils staying with foreign families who, while carefully selected, have not been disclosure checked. The Government is currently consulting on a new "vetting and barring" scheme until mid-February, and hopes to implement it in 2009.

This is part of The Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007, passed under the previous administration following the Soham murders and recommendations of the Bichard inquiry.

The aim is to end the system of multiple disclosure checks, while ensuring that children and vulnerable adults are protected. Individual records would be updated as and when people change jobs or take up volunteering roles or when new information is referred to the scheme.

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