We outline the key child safety issues to be born in mind when recruiting staff and explain the financial implications of getting it wrong.
Undoubtedly the key asset and investment in any school is its population, both staff and students. Therefore, it makes sound financial sense to ensure that everything possible is done to safeguard their welfare, a fact which is recognised in the DfES document Safeguarding Children: Safer Recruitment and Selection in Education Settings. In this article, we review the major features of the document and suggest how ignoring its content can have serious financial implications for your school.
Getting it wrong
A wrong choice in terms of members of staff can be hugely expensive. Initially there is the actual cost of advertising, the cost in terms of time involved in staff/governor hours spent on deciding job descriptions, shortlisting and interviewing, and the costs involved in induction and training (not to mention possible salary changes if the replacement is more expensive than their predecessor) and then after all that you have to face up to the fact that you got it wrong. This too has a cost – usually in terms of morale. Unhappy, disaffected staff attract dissent and the malaise spreads… Staff in this situation are more likely to be stressed and stress contributes to illness, which leads to more staff having to cover work for colleagues, which leads to unhappy, disaffected staff… It can easily become a vicious circle – and an expensive one. Viewed in the long term it can be an expensive error also; schools which have a high turnover of staff not only have to face the expense of continual replacements, they may also find themselves having to deal with PR problems and having difficulties attracting a sufficiently wide field of candidates to allow them to make suitable choices.
Making safe decisions
However, the most devastating error in recruitment terms is failure to ensure safety. It is essential that schools adopt processes which help to deter, reject or identify people who might abuse children or are otherwise unsuited to work with them. It is important to recognise that everyone who works in an education setting is likely to be perceived by children as a safe and trustworthy adult, regardless of whether they come into regular contact with children as part of their role (eg school secretary, the man who cuts the grass, the cook, the mum who helps tidy the library, etc) are all seen as trustworthy by virtue of the fact that they are connected with school. This will include workers who are not on the payroll and unpaid volunteers as well as full- and part-time staff. It is, therefore, important to ensure that any contractors on the premises also implement rigorous vetting processes and that they are monitored for compliance. While this might appear by some to be unnecessary interference and a low priority, remind yourself exactly how difficult it would be if through your failure to carry out such steps you woke one morning to the headline that a child had been molested on your premises by a workman… Though we might all wish it were otherwise, unfortunately these situations do happen.
Regular volunteers who are in school almost daily are particularly seen by children as safe and trustworthy adults, so it is important to ensure that your school adopts the same rigorous recruitment measures for volunteers as it does for paid staff, especially if they have no previous, recent knowledge of the person. In situations where the school approaches a parent to fulfil a specific role the DfES guidelines suggest that a more streamlined procedure can be adopted; however, it is still recommended that a number of measures are taken:
- references are sought
- checks are undertaken with others in the school community to ensure that there are no known concerns and to ensure that there are positive recommendations
- an informal interview to judge suitability is carried out
- a List 99 and Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) check takes place (see below).
Where helpers are recruited for ‘one-off’ events it is essential that they should not be left alone and unsupervised with children. However, it’s important to realise that this too could appear to young children to be sanctioning them as a ‘safe’ person and the fact that they met them at school does then provide a way of legitimising future contact. Where volunteers are recruited by another organisation and then work in school (eg a coach from the local club, lifeguard from a pool or cycling instructor) then it is essential that the school actively seeks assurances from that organisation that the person has been properly vetted.
Although supply staff and exam invigilators are paid, not volunteers, it’s important also to ensure that any agency which undertakes to provide staff for these purposes has carried out full and sufficient checks.
There are currently two main checks which can be carried out, List 99 and CRB. These do relate to different aspects of employment and it is possible that a name will appear on one and not the other. List 99 is a sensitive and highly confidential document and access to it is strictly limited to individuals responsible for checking the suitability of applicants. Information obtained from this list should not then be disclosed to others within the school community except in relation to a specific job application. The purpose of List 99 is to enable employers to safeguard against employing a barred person; however, it cannot be emphasised enough that not all those on the list are perceived to be a danger to children. It contains the names, dates of birth and teacher reference numbers of people whose employment has been barred or restricted, either on grounds of misconduct or on medical grounds. If a person’s employment is restricted, the entry shows the types of employment in which he or she is permitted to work. This kind of restriction will particularly apply to those who are barred from on medical grounds (eg having taken early retirement from teaching because of ill health and in receipt of a pension). People barred on misconduct grounds are listed separately from those barred on medical grounds, but no details of misconduct will be given. Similar details of people who have been struck off the Register of Teachers in Scotland, or barred from teaching in Northern Ireland, are included in Annexes to the List.
The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) aims to help employers and voluntary organisations make safer recruitment decisions through a service called disclosure. The bureau issues three types of disclosure, each representing a different level of check. Work with children and young people qualifies for the most detailed of checks. A CRB check involves an automatic search of the Police National Computer. This reveals if a person has been convicted, cautioned, reprimanded or given a warning for a criminal offence, including those that relate to sexual offences/cautions. If the position for which the CRB check is required involves working with children and the relevant boxes on the application form are crossed, the CRB also checks List 99 and the PoCA (Protection of Children Act) list. It could also be used to reveal any information held by the DfES under Section 142 of the Education Act 2002 of those considered unsuitable or banned from working with children.
It is important that all applicants – including volunteers – for posts in school are asked to complete a disclosure form giving details of their record, if any, and giving their consent to a search being carried out. A search cannot be carried out without consent and obviously failure to give consent should arouse suspicion. Always verify that the form has been completed fully, that the identity given is correct and documentary evidence has been provided to support this. The form is then forwarded to the CRB so that details may be verified and a full search carried out. When the application is processed, the CRB sends out a copy of the disclosure, containing any information revealed during its searches, to the applicant and the prospective employer. Prospective employers have a duty to treat this information with sensitivity, store it appropriately and to retain it only for as long as is necessary. Each disclosure will show the date on which it was printed; however, because a conviction or other matter could be recorded against the subject of the disclosure at any time after it is issued, disclosures do not carry a pre-determined period of validity.
Schools should have a written recruitment and selection policy statement and procedures which comply with national and local guidance. The DfES guidance suggests the following format:
‘Anyschool is committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people and expects all staff and volunteers to share this commitment.’
This should be included in publicity materials, recruitment websites, advertisements, candidate information packs, person specifications, job descriptions, competency frameworks and all induction materials. In addition the person specification should clearly set out the extent of relationships and contact with children and the degree of responsibility for children which the post entails. The application form should always include an explanation that the post is exempt is from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and therefore all convictions, cautions and bindovers – including those regarded as spent – must be declared. There is also a requirement that there should be a signed statement that the applicant is not on List 99, disqualified from work with children, or subject to sanctions imposed by a regulatory body such as the GTC, or, if this is not the case, has included details in a sealed envelope marked as confidential. The application form should also inform applicants that the successful candidate will be required to provide a disclosure from the CRB.
The information pack should also contain information on the following safety and recruitment issues:
- details of the recruitment process and relevant policies as regards equal opportunities and the recruitment of ex-offenders
- the school’s child protection policy statement.
Along with the usual recruitment procedures involved in assessing candidates at this stage, it is important to ensure that safety aspects are considered in the process. Particular areas to consider are the following:
- Any obvious gaps in employment – particularly any pattern of career changes which do not relate to clear salary/career progression. Mid-career moves from permanent to temporary posts should always be checked and verified – however, do bear in mind that there may well be rational explanations for these (eg wife of serviceman forced to move because of accommodation issues, time out to care for dependents).
- Always attempt to take up references – including for internal candidates – before the interview so that issues can be explored in full with the referee. When requesting references it is important to remind them that they have a responsibility to ensure that the reference is accurate and doesn’t contain material misstatement or omissions and that the relevant factual content may be discussed with the applicant. The request for the reference should also find out any information on past or ongoing allegations or concerns that have been raised about the applicant which relate to the safety and welfare of children and young people, their behaviour towards them and the outcome of any concerns.
- Ensure that the invitation to interview stresses that the successful candidate will need to provide proof of identity and will be asked to complete an application for a CRB disclosure straight away.
- If an applicant has worked or been resident overseas in the previous five years then it is still necessary to carry out List 99 and CRB checks, as any information prior to this period will still be listed. However, it is also important to carry out a check on their criminal record in the country in which they have been resident. Although not all countries provide this service, the CRB does operate an Overseas Information Service which can provide a fax-back service – however, the information obtained may well need to be translated into English. Overseas staff should also be subject to List 99 and CRB checks; however, if they have not previously lived in the UK there will be no records and applications for information will have to be made to the relevant country.
If suspicions arise
Unfortunately not everyone who applies for posts in school is trustworthy – as headlines all too often sadly show – and it is, therefore, important to always be aware of safety issues. Obtaining a post which gives access to young people can be seen as a first step to making contact with targets for grooming. It is, therefore, important to recognise that this danger does exist and to foster a safety awareness culture which takes allegations of abuse and threats to the welfare of children seriously. If at any stage in the recruitment procedure a candidate for a post working with children or young people has breached one of the following three guidelines then action must be taken immediately:
- the candidate is found to be on List 99 or the PoCA List, or the CRB disclosure shows he or she has been disqualified from working with children by a court
- the candidate has supplied false information in, or in support, of their application
- there are serious concerns about the applicant’s suitability to work with children.
In all of the above situations the matter should be reported to the police and the DfES’s Children’s Safeguarding Operations Unit (formerly known as the Teacher’s Misconduct Team). It is also important to remember that no matter how careful your screening procedures may be, the CRB and List 99 checks will only pick up on the small percentage of abusers who have been convicted, come to the attention of the authorities, or who have been listed. The vast majority of individuals who are unsuited to working with children will not have any previous convictions and therefore will not appear on any list. It is, therefore, vital that the school fosters a culture of safety awareness so that any allegations are taken seriously and dealt with swiftly. Abused children do not always disclose the abuse at the time it occurs and if a child feels that they will not be listened to then the abuser is able to continue with their actions unchallenged – often for a number of years. It is in everyone’s interests to have in place ways of working which reduce the possibility of this occurring.
A recent Ofsted survey revealed big problems with record keeping. Although schools and local authorities claimed that they had made sure that all staff were suitably checked, they did not have evidence to substantiate their claims. Ofsted found that half the 58 schools surveyed were unaware of the range of advice available to them and so were not using these sources to check the suitability of candidates. Equally, they were confused about the position of staff in the school and had no records to show who had been checked, who had checks pending and what the position was on how much contact should be allowed in this situation.
The survey also highlighted misconceptions about the practices of supply agencies with regard to vetting and confusion regarding the vetting of governors. Governors are generally asked only to sign a declaration of suitability and to undergo a List 99 check. However, where a governor plays an active part in school life then they must be treated in the same way as any other person in that position and undergo an enhanced disclosure.
In response to the survey the government has put out new guidance on recruitment and vetting, which is currently under consultation (see below). The document sets out to clarify the procedure for CRB checks, mentioning which posts need to be checked, how frequently checks need to be made, the situation regarding supply staff and the checking of identities. It also discusses the need for care over recruitment record keeping, the position of extended schools and procedures for overseas staff and teachers.
Essential information which schools must hold on staff
- Proof of identity – name, address and date of birth, along with a record showing how the information was verified (through appropriate documentation) and the date when this check was made.
- Details of qualifications – evidence of qualifications which are a requirement of the job and dated documentation showing when the check was made. In the case of overseas staff there should also be dated evidence that a check has been made that they have permission to work in this country.
- List 99 – evidence that a List 99 check has been obtained.
- CRB Check – dated evidence that this check has been carried out for all staff recruited since March 2002 except in situations where there is approved continuity of service.
Safeguarding Children: Safer Recruitment and Selection in Education Settings can be downloaded from www.teachernet.gov.uk/_doc/8592/Recruit.pdf
The following websites are also of interest: