Barred from your job for living with the wrong person

30th January 2015 at 00:00
Child safety rules leave dozens of primary teachers suspended

Controversial new child protection rules are 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 someone who has committed a serious violent or sexual crime, or been banned from working with children. But unions say that confusion over the rules has led to numerous cases where school staff have been erroneously barred from school, with hundreds of others left in "limbo" while their cases are dealt with.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said one primary school leader had even left 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 it 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."

Ben Thomas, a national officer for Unison, which represents school support staff, said the union was aware of more than 300 disqualification cases involving school staff so far. These include one female member who was wrongly suspended because her husband had a history of mental illness.

Another employee was prevented from working because he lived with his son who had received a football banning order, and one woman was disqualified because her daughter had been temporarily removed from her care after running away from home a decade earlier when she was a teenager.

The rules are supposed to apply only to serious cases including murder, rape, manslaughter and indecent assault, as well as grievous and actual bodily harm.

If a member of school staff lives with someone convicted of one of these offences, they must disclose this if they are asked by their employer. The member of staff will then be automatically suspended until they apply to Ofsted for a waiver, which they need in order to return to work.

Teachers and support staff who work with children under the age of 6 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 8.

The rules were brought in for childminders and nurseries in 2009, but in October last year the Department for Education stressed that they also applied to people working in primaries. Schools and local authorities across the country have since been asking staff to declare any previous convictions and police cautions of people living in their household.

"Staff are being told they can't work," Mr Thomas said. "They are being left in limbo, and it's nothing to do with the children's safety or an individual's ability to teach. It's extremely distressing for them.

"If a school becomes aware of an offence, it has no choice but to suspend the member of staff. People are worried they will be branded sex offenders and talked about while they are suspended from school. Suspension is supposed to be a neutral act but for most people it doesn't feel like that."

Unison claims that a number of local authorities and schools have been misapplying the rules and also warn that it is unclear how spent convictions should be treated.

TES understands that the Department for Education has been holding a series of meetings with stakeholders to draw up revised guidance, which is expected to be published in March.

The NUT has instigated a legal challenge against the guidance, arguing that it "misrepresents the relevant legislation and imposes unnecessary obligations on employers and employees".

To date, Ofsted has received 259 waiver applications, of which 17 have been granted. "The total number of applications includes.those that are not relevant or do not meet the criteria and those in progress," a spokeswoman added.

A spokesperson for the DfE said: "Nothing is more important than keeping children safe and schools should ensure this is paramount in everything they do.

"These are not new requirements and the law has not changed. Schools and governing bodies should use their judgement when deciding which school staff are covered and, where it is deemed necessary, take action."

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