Original magazine headline: Masterclass - Safeguarding - Safe and secure
Keeping children safe is the number one priority for schools and this term sees the launch of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). The authority takes over co-ordination of safeguarding checks, aiming to increase the protection of children in education settings.
The ISA aims to simplify the current situation. At the moment, schools request a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check for new staff and volunteers. As part of the process, applicants are checked against List 99 and the PoCA (Protection of Children Act) List. If you're on either list, you can't work with children. The problem with this system has been that CRB checks only provide a "snapshot" of someone's history at one point in time.
From July 2010, schools will also need to check that newcomers have registered with the ISA, which will continually monitor their status. The ISA will be notified immediately of any information that suggests a person might not be suitable to work with children or vulnerable adults. It will have the power to bar these individuals.
The ISA will not replace the CRB, but the two systems will work together. To simplify the process, new applicants will be able to apply for both ISA registration and a CRB check on the same form. ISA registration demonstrates there is no known reason why an individual cannot work with vulnerable groups. However, it does not give full details of criminal records.
The ISA will base its decisions on information held by various agencies, government departments and the CRB.
If, for any reason, an individual is found to be unsuitable to work with children or vulnerable adults, they will be added to one of the two new vetting and barring lists. Those who are known to be unsuitable will be barred from working with children andor vulnerable adults at the earliest possible opportunity.
Initially, changes will be made to the current system. These will include:
- A wider definition of "regulated activities" that involve contact with children.
- Two new barring lists, administered by ISA, to replace the three barring lists currently administered by different government departments (List 99, administered by the DCSF; PoCA administered by the Secretary of State; and the Protection of Vulnerable Adults list administered by the Department of Health.
- Extended eligibility criteria for enhanced CRB checks.
- Criminal penalties for barred individuals who seek or undertake work with vulnerable groups, and for employers who knowingly take them on.
But many schools fear this will create extra paperwork, and there have been a number of complaints in the media from figures such as children's author Phillip Pullman, who believe they should be exempt from registering with ISA before they visit schools. Others, such as Children's Laureate Anthony Browne, believe anyone who works with children should undergo these kinds of checks.
Schools are also concerned about the pound;64 cost. Currently volunteers can be CRB checked for as little as pound;4, which is just an administration cost.
The Every Child Matters strategy emphasises the Government's aim that all children have the support they need to stay safe. Local authorities and governing bodies of schools are already required under the Education Act 2002 to make arrangements to ensure that children are safeguarded and that their welfare is promoted. Schools are obliged to designate responsibility for child protection to a senior member of staff.
School leaders want to do everything possible to ensure they fulfil their duty to promote their pupils' welfare and, at most schools we speak to, everyone from the bursar to the catering manager have been CRB checked.
Chris Humphreys, the headteacher of Foxwood Foundation School and Technology College in Nottingham, requires CRB checks before any member of staff starts working at the school. Their induction then goes on to include comprehensive child protection training. Specific courses are provided for those with additional responsibilities.
He says the introduction of the ISA checks will create more administration for schools but adds: "I don't think anybody can create a counter-argument to what is being asked of us." Hopefully, the ISA will make recruitment processes more rigorous and guarantee that, as Mr Humphreys insists, "staying safe is a number one priority"
Caroline Cochrane is a specialist researcher in child protection at The Key, an independent service that supports school leaders. Visit www.usethekey.org.uk.