Vetting to avoid more Dunblanes

18th October 1996 at 01:00
The Government has promised new vetting procedures and a national monitoring body for youth clubs and children's organisations in its official response to the Cullen Report on the Dunblane shootings.

There will also be measures obliging schools to draw up and implement safety strategies to protect pupils from violence. Teachers, says Lord Cullen, should receive regular training in dealing with aggression and in cultivating safety awareness.

Under the recommendations of the Report, accepted by the Government this week, there will be a new national information and accreditation system for youth clubs, set up to monitor the suitability of leaders and workers.

Registration will be voluntary, but all bodies dealing with children under the age of 16 will be asked to join. Youth groups will be given access to criminal record checks.

Ministers have also agreed to consider developing a new Scottish vocational qualification, awarded for work with children, including the organisation of clubs and child protection. Thomas Hamilton, the gunman who killed 16 children at Dunblane primary in March, had been allowed to run a number of boys' clubs with relative ease, says the report, "despite persistent complaints and concerns about his behaviour".

Lord Cullen concludes that there should be a new system "to ensure that clubs and groups which are voluntarily attended by children and young people for their recreation, education or development use adequate checks on the suitability of the leaders and workers who have substantial unsupervised access to them."

The report rules out compulsory systems of registration, arguing they would be bureaucratic and difficult to enforce.

Instead he calls for a national body to accredit youth groups and monitor their activities. It would ensure that they had an approved code of practice and that staff qualifications had been scrutinised. In the case of small clubs like those run by Thomas Hamilton, says the report, the national body would need to carry out its own checks.

In its response, the Government "accepts the need for co-ordination of information at national level about persons regarded as potentially unsuitable for work with children and young people. It also accepts the need to ensure that all voluntary youth organisations should have arrangements to check on the suitability of leaders and workers."

Commenting on school security, Lord Cullen recognises that the precautions appropriate for an inner-city school may be unsuitable for an isolated rural school.

"The assessment of risk should take account of each situation. If a blanket approach to the installation of measures is adopted this may involve unnecessary or inappropriate expenditure."

He lists the sorts of question schools should ask themselves. For example: "Should parents give notice of their intention to visit? Should some form of surveillance be installed at subsidiary points of entry? What staff such as a janitor or a secretary should be on hand? What training should they have? What back-up should they have?".

He also outlines the sorts of measure that could be needed in case of an emergency: "The object will be to contain and defuse the situation on the one hand and on the other make sure that staff have immediate support. The first points to the need for staff to receive regular training in dealing with aggression and in general cultivating a sense of safety awareness. The latter involves a consideration of physical measures.

"It may be appropriate to consider panic buttons or telephones. Personal alarms for teachers may be required. Closed-circuit television may be of some assistance but if it is to help it will require to be monitored."

He concludes that "those who have the legal responsibility for the health and safety of the teaching staff and pupils at school should prepare a safety strategy for the protection of the school population against violence, together with an action plan for implementing and monitoring the effectiveness of safety measures."

The Department for Education and Employment has already announced measures aimed at improving school security based on the recommendations of the school security working group, set up following the murder of London headteacher Philip Lawrence.

The Government has issued new guidance on the security of school buildings; strengthened the law on offensive weapons to help police deal with knives carried in the playground; has given Pounds 2 million towards a Home Office scheme to promote closed-circuit television in public buildings; and promised "substantial new resources", details to be announced soon.

The Public Inquiry into the Shootings at Dunblane Primary School on 13 March 1996 is published by the Stationery Office Ltd, price Pounds 20. It is also available from The Publications Centre on 0171 873 0011.

Cullen's main points

* All schools should have a safety strategy to protect pupils and staff against violence and an action plan to implement appropriate measures; * Guidelines on violence to staff working in schools should be extended to encompass pupils and parents; Vetting and supervision of adults working with children;

* All clubs and groups for children under 16 should be accredited to a national body to ensure there are adequate checks on the suitability of adults who supervise or are involved in running them. Accreditation should be voluntary;

* A new qualification for adults who work with children in Scotland, offering training in the organisation of clubs and child development and protection.

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