Editor's comment

8th February 2008 at 00:00
No one in their right mind would have intended to draft legislation which means that anyone working in any capacity on school premises - regardless of whether children are present - must undergo police checks. Yet that is the latest official ruling by the Scottish Government.

For the last couple of years, officials have been preaching the language of common sense - that child protection laws were intended to cover only those whose normal duties involved child care. But now, a re-examination of the wording of child protection legislation has forced the Government into a complete about-turn in its guidance.

The implications of the new advice almost beggar belief. That workmen building a school before a pupil sets foot on the site, adults at an evening class, and parent council members holding their regular meeting are now subject to disclosure checks defies common sense and the spirit of the legislation.

The implications are serious. Many schools have been created as community hubs, but that role is in jeopardy if any adult crossing the threshold has to submit to police checks. The "hardest to reach" parents may be the ones who have a conviction on their police record, albeit unrelated to child protection issues. Yet they are the people who may lack the confidence to volunteer for even an evening class in computing if past misdemeanours must be disclosed.

Was shoddy drafting of the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act to blame for this farce? As it now appears, scrutiny of the legislation by the parliament's education committee failed to pick up the implications of the wording. Fiona Hyslop and Adam Ingram, previously members of that committee, now have to sort out this mess in their new roles as education ministers. The question must be asked whether fresh legislation is required to make sense of the nonsensical.

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