Why can't we check?

7th August 1998 at 01:00
Vetting of volunteers still not in place two years after Cullen report into Dunblane deaths

Thousands of voluntary staff who work with children in schools and clubs are still evading strict scrutiny two and a half years after the Dunblane shootings.

Vetting is described as no more than "piecemeal" by local authorities and national agencies. Some councils have been able to gain ready access to criminal records files held by the police but others have not.

Councils are now pressing ministers to speed the introduction of a national accreditation and vetting system, a key recommendation of Lord Cullen's report into the Dunblane tragedy.

The Home Office is currently wrestling with the United Kingdom implications following soundings north of the border and is likely to issue an interdepartmental paper on working with children.

It is more than a year since the Scottish Office issued a consultation paper on the options. Nothing has been heard since.

Alarmed at the silence, Edinburgh City Council has written to the Scottish Secretary underlining its concern about the failure of the Scottish Criminal Records Office to process checks on voluntary workers, as has Donald Gorrie, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman.

Mr Gorrie, a member of Lothian Association of Youth Clubs, said: "The problem of vetting volunteers was presented pretty strongly to me."

The Scottish Office says plans are under way to extend vetting, but admits it is unable to process the checks. During the consultation, ministers suggested the scheme should be self-financing with clubs charged Pounds 10-15 for each check. Many clubs protested that the costs would be prohibitive.

Edinburgh points out that the Police Act 1997 already extends the legal base of vetting. Paul Williamson, the council's education vice-convener, pledged that parents helping in schools or on out-of-school projects would not gain unsupervised access to children because of the delay.

"The Cullen report wanted the situation improved and checks stepped up but the piecemeal nature of the system is getting in the way of that. This is unsatisfactory, particularly with the introduction of the childcare strategy. We need to get the anomalies rectified," Mr Williamson said.

Senior staff this week in Stirling - which covers Dunblane - Glasgow and Dundee said they had no problems processing checks on volunteers. But Edinburgh, East Lothian and Midlothian had requests for checks refused.

David Sinclair, head of community education in Edinburgh, believed some authorities were quicker off the mark to introduce systems. Others that were slower ran into delays.

Alan Blackie, director of education in East Lothian, called on ministers to clarify their position on the Cullen recommendations but admitted East Lothian did not have the staff to process all local checks.

Mr Blackie remains uncertain about the effectiveness of moves to prevent another Thomas Hamilton slipping through the system, a view he believes is shared by the Government.

"Is a parent who helps out with a school trip included? In my view, yes. Is anyone who gives time to help in a youth centre or sports centre? Yes.

"Who vets volunteers who work with sports teams and swimming clubs? It's an enormous issue," Mr Blackie said.

"If Thomas Hamilton had been vetted, he would not have been found wanting. Good training is the answer and people knowing folk locally."

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today