The Issue - Safeguarding

16th July 2010 at 01:00
Labour's Vetting and Barring Scheme is being `fundamentally remodelled', but what would be the best outcome for schools - and those who work in them?

Everyone agrees that there needs to be a safeguarding system. But who should be vetted? Teachers and teaching assistants, of course. And perhaps other employees, such as dinner ladies and caretakers. But what about a parent who comes in to help with football training? Or a policeman who gives a talk on road safety? A visiting author? A sixth-former going into a primary school on work experience?

Under the original Vetting and Barring Scheme - a result of the inquiry that followed the murder of two girls by school caretaker Ian Huntley - all of the above would have been required to register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

Then, last December, after widespread criticism, the proposals were watered down: parents would be required to register only if they helped out on a weekly basis and exemptions would be made for sixth-formers and families hosting children on foreign exchanges.

Now, just weeks before roll-out, the Government has halted the scheme. The plans are to be "fundamentally remodelled" into something "proportionate and sensible". Quite what that will mean in practice is unclear.

"Given that the proposals had already been reviewed, it is not obvious how they can usefully be thinned down further," says Richard Bird, the Association of School and College Leaders' legal specialist.

It seems likely that key features of the plans will be retained. For example, registration with a central organisation holding a continually updated database is widely considered an improvement on a simple Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check, which only reveals someone's status at a given moment.

One way to narrow the scheme would be to restrict vetting to adults who have regular contact with the same pupils - something the original proposals were moving towards, but which could be taken further.

"The idea that someone coming into a school on a one-off basis will commit an offence seems fairly remote," suggests Mr Bird. Another option would be to allow schools to assess risk based on whether or not a visitor will be unsupervised.

"It is a question of context," says Mike Locke, director of public affairs at Volunteering England. "We would argue that a volunteer who is always in the presence of other adults is a different case to someone working on their own."

Whatever the Government decides, it will struggle to keep everyone happy. A survey by the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations last year found that members were overwhelmingly positive about the Vetting and Barring Scheme, and 76 per cent felt that anyone training or caring for children at an after-school club should have to be registered. But volunteer organisations say that community involvement in schools will suffer if the measures are too tough. "Registration is a hurdle," says Mr Locke. "If people are going to be giving their time they don't want to feel treated with suspicion."

For now, schools must continue to comply with existing legislation and await the outcome of the review.

What to do

- The Independent Safeguarding Authority will continue to operate and to maintain a list of those barred from working with children.

- Legislation of October 2009 is still valid. Schools are legally obliged to pass on information to the ISA about employees deemed a risk.

- No completion date has been set for the review, though more details are likely by September.

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