All England and Wales' major headteachers' leaders - private and state, primary and secondary -have joined forces to demand a complete rethink of new laws designed to protect children from paedophiles, calling them "disproportionate to risk".
The seven associations representing the country's 27,500 heads have today written to the Government warning that the new Vetting and Barring scheme could spell the end of many extra-curricular activities and trips and leave heads drowning in paperwork.
The letter warns that schools will be forced to reduce the attendance of competitive sporting events, cut back on sending pupils on work or volunteer placements or welcoming exchange students or visiting speakers.
The scheme will also entail a vast increase in paperwork for headteachers, and make it harder to take on emergency staff such as dinner ladies or plumbers.
There are also fears that the new arrangements will become another costly stick for Ofsted to beat headteachers with.
The letter, addressed to Schools Secretary Ed Balls, also warns that the new scheme could create a "sense of false security" around the protection of children from paedophiles and wrongdoers.
The new scheme, which will start in July 2010 under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, will require all people engaged in "regulated activity either frequently or intensively or overnight" with under-16s to register with the new Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA).
This means parents hosting exchange students or even parents volunteering to help with trips or lifts to sports events could be subject to Criminal Records Bureau check and ongoing vetting.
Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it was "unprecedented" for so many bodies representing headteachers to have such unanimous opposition to a scheme.
And he added that the best form of vetting was "the awareness of headteachers themselves" rather than a complicated paper exercise.
"It is the alertness and the ability to spot a wrong-un at 20 paces and I think my colleagues are pretty good at that," he said.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the high media profile of safeguarding had made it hard for anyone to criticise it.
Ian Power, membership secretary at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents the top 250 elite private schools, said hundreds of students involved in volunteering in the local community could be affected by the plans.
In theory, if a sixth-former visited an elderly person on a regular basis, they might both have to be registered with the ISA in order to protect them from each other, he said.
Association of School and College Leaders
- National Association of Head Teachers
- The Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference
- Independent Association of Prep Schools
- The Girls' Schools Association
- Society of Heads of Independent School
- Independent Schools Association.