Were the recent adjustments to the Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) necessary? Katie Michelon examines some of the changes that Singleton has recommended in his report, Drawing the Line, which was published in December, and provides an update on the new guidance and the awaited sector-specific guidance

Late last year Ed Balls commissioned Sir Roger Singleton, chair of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), to report on whether any adjustments to the Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) were necessary.

Why were changes recommended?
In autumn last year, the scheme was subject to much negative publicity. Among this publicity was a letter from seven bodies representing headteachers and school leaders across the UK who wrote to the government to complain that the new scheme is ‘disproportionate to risk’. Critics also largely focused on the degree of contact with children that would trigger registration and some corresponding, seemingly absurd, practical outcomes of this.

Has Singleton responded by changing how much contact with children will require registration?
Yes. One of his recommendations is to change what constitutes ‘frequent’ and ‘intensive’ regulated activity. Where an individual engages in ‘regulated activity’ – for example, working in a school – if that regulated activity is frequent and/or intensive, that person must register with the ISA.

The original position was that frequent activity occurred if a person engaged in regulated activity once a month or more. However, Singleton concluded that the line had been drawn too high in this regard and recommended an amended frequency test of once a week or more.

Similarly, whereas before his report activity was deemed intensive if it occurred more than three times in one month, Singleton has now recommended that contact is intensive where it is more than four times in a month.

There was a lot of press coverage that the vetting and barring scheme (VBS) would hamper the day-to-day arrangements that parents make – has Singleton’s report changed this?
Previously, where parents employed a private tutor or looked after someone else’s children overnight, the VBS rules could have potentially kicked in.

The government is wary of intruding in family life and has now agreed that where parents exercise their own judgement about who should care for their children, it is a private matter and the VBS scheme does not apply.

Private arrangements are to be distinguished from the situation in which an organisation, such as a school or club, will be determining who is working with the parents’ children. In this case, subject to the frequency and intensity tests, registration with the ISA will be necessary.

What has happened with school exchanges?
The spirit of traditional school foreign exchanges could have been jeopardised by the requirement that parents and any other family members over 16 would first have to get themselves registered with the ISA. Singleton recommended that ‘Exchange visits lasting less than 28 days, where overseas parents accept the responsibility for the selection of the host family, should be regarded as private arrangements and would not require registration.’

A DCSF note issued last month clarifies that Singleton’s recommendation does not mean that parents can cherry-pick the host family. Rather, parents should confirm that they are happy with the selection made by the school through the existing arrangements that schools will have in place to allow parents a say in choosing the host family. Singleton gave examples of such arrangements in his report, such as parents being encouraged to make contact with the host family themselves prior to the exchange.

Singleton does also caveat his recommendation by stating that it would not prevent an individual school or college from asking host parents to register with the ISA if it wished to offer an additional measure of protection.

When will we see the guidance that has been promised for so long?
The guidance was released on Friday and can be accessed here. It is generic guidance dealing with registration and guidance and runs to 76 pages.

Has Singleton made it clear when workers who are ISA-registered will need to get CRB checks?
Once a person is ISA-registered, there is currently no requirement that the CRB notifies the employer of any new information that would be disclosed if a new CRB were applied for, unless that information is something that would mean the ISA were ‘minded to bar’ or actually barred an individual.

Employers may, however, want information about current or prospective staff beyond that relating to safeguarding to ensure those staff are suitable to carry out the role for which they are employed. As an example, if a role at a school involves driving the school minibus, the school would be well advised to ascertain whether the prospective staff member has any driving convictions. This information could only be garnered from a new CRB check.

Even with the new ISA system in place, it is advisable to ask prospective staff members to provide a new CRB check at interview.

What next?
All 10 of Singleton’s recommendations have been accepted by the Government and as a result, it is thought that two million less people will need to register with the ISA.

The new generic guidance has now been released, but sector-specific guidance is still required. The Government has promised to launch a public consultation on the revision of the Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education guidance, but it has not begun yet. So close to a general election, it is doubtful we will now see this guidance by the end of the academic year.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2010

About the author: Katie Michelon is a lawyer at Browne Jacobson. To find out more about the legal services Browne Jacobson provides in the education sector and to visit their website, please follow this link www.brownejacobson.com.