Jenni Whitehead summarises the 2006 consultation paper on ‘Safer Recruitment and Vetting in the Education Service’.

First published in Protecting Children Update, September 2006

Yes I know what you’re saying, ‘Not more on recruitment and vetting!’ Well, I am afraid so – more reading and more paperwork.

The front sheet of Child Protection: Safer Recruitment and Vetting in the Education Service describes it as attempting to ‘consolidate in one place everything anyone needs to know about both the must-dos and the strongly recommended best practice in terms of recruitment and vetting checks for individuals who will work with children and young people.’ In fact, it says very little about the overall process of recruitment – it is about recruitment vetting and the necessity of enhanced CRB checks. It seeks to reflect regulations that came into force in May, making CRB disclosures mandatory for all new staff. (Existing staff, it is suggested, should only be required to go through the checks only if they are causing concern. I can’t help wondering if this exemption has more to do with the strain that checking such staff would place on the system than a decision  that existing staff pose less of a risk.)

Which positions do we have to check?

  • Any new appointments to work in a school or a sixth form college, on day premises, or in a children’s home or hospital.
  • Any position in which the normal duties include caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of children under the age of 18.
  • Any position involving unsupervised contact with a child under arrangements made by the child’s parents or guardian, the child’s school or a registered daycare provider.
  • A position as a governor of a school or sixth form college which involves work in the presence of, or care for, children, or training, supervising or being in sole charge of children.
  • Any work involving regular contact with children in a further education institution.

‘New appointments’ means:

  • anyone who has not worked in a school; or
  • has been out of the workforce for more than three months; or
  • moves to work that involves greater contact with children, and where their previous work did not require an enhanced check.

It includes those staff who do not work directly with children, for example administrative staff, caretakers and other ancillary staff.

Section 1.23 poses the question ‘Are enhanced checks required to be obtained for existing staff?’ and answers no, unless they fall into any of the sections given under ‘New appointments’. An exception is referred to here, but explained further on in the document at section 1.67. The exception is with regard to staff from overseas recruited since March 2002, who must have enhanced CRB checks.

How often should we check staff?
Section 1.24 asks ‘How often should people expect to obtain a CRB check?’ This sounds like the question I am most often asked – how often do staff have to be checked?

The answer I was expecting was every three years or more if they change jobs or roles. However, the answer given is, ‘If they are re-appointed or re-selected as a governor and a CRB check is required because there is more contact with children, have a break in service of three months or more, or move to a post with significantly greater responsibility for children, or if the employer, school or further education institution or LA has concerns about their suitability to work with children then an enhanced CRB check must be obtained.’

The answer to my question took some finding but does appear at Section 1.122: Frequency of checks (24 pages on!) This section is within Annex D: Guidance for Employment Agencies supplying staff to schools.

It says: ‘Agencies should obtain an enhanced CRB check when they first register or engage a teacher, and should obtain a fresh enhanced CRB check every three years’, or earlier if there is a break in service or if there are concerns about the person’s suitability to work with children.

Supply staff
The document is clear that supply agencies must ask their staff to obtain an enhanced CRB check. They should then provide teachers with a letter certifying that all the checks required under DfES guidance have been satisfactorily completed, which they can pass on to the headteacher. If a CRB check is pending, this fact must also be communicated to the head, with details of when the disclosure was sought. Subsequent clearance should then be passed on to the head, and where a disclosure raises concerns an individual must be withdrawn pending further inquiries.

I think this section will make things a little easier as up to now it hasn’t been too clear who has the responsibility for checking supply staff.
In my own LEA we had a case where a supply member of staff became a cause for concern and the subsequent investigation found that the supply agency only CRB checked their staff on the request of the headteacher (and for an extra charge). However, the supply agency did not tell the head this and he had been under the belief that all supply agencies checked their staff.

Checking identity
It becomes mandatory to actively check an applicant’s identity under the new regulations. Advice given in this document includes checking a person’s identity by asking to see their:

  • birth certificate, or
  • driving licence, or
  • passport, together with evidence of their postal address

If a school employs staff through an agency or other third party they must check that the person who arrives is the same person as the one referred by the agency.

School visitors and volunteers
This section gives a list of people for whom it is not expected to obtain a CRB check. It includes:

  • visitors to the head or other teachers who only have brief contact with children with a teacher present
  • visitors coming on to the premises for repairs or to service equipment
  • building or other contractors (children should not be allowed in areas where work is in progress; where such contractors do have contact with children, schools must ensure that the appropriate checks take place)
  • volunteer parents going on day trips or those that help on an ad hoc basis (those accompanying children on overnight trips away must be checked)
  • secondary pupils on KS4 work experience, in other schools or nursery classes and KS5 or sixth-form pupils on short career or subject placements; however, school must check their suitability (this is beginning to be a problematic area in that some nurseries are already asking for young people to undergo a CRB check before accepting them on placement)
  • people onsite before or after school, where they will have no contact with children – this includes local community groups that hire the school’s premises.

Should schools let people start work before the check comes back? The document’s advice on this is, I think, a little less clear. It says that ‘ideally’ a CRB check should be seen but then gives discretion to the head to allow a person to start work where the CRB check is pending. The head must ensure that if a person starts work they are appropriately supervised.

What is the appropriate level of supervision? The advice given is that it will depend on how much is known of the member of staff, their level of experience and how much positive information has been given in their references. My only comment here is the following question: if a person is allowed to start and something bad happens before the CRB check comes back, and there is something of concern on it when it does come back, who is most likely to be criticised?

In my own area it was decided that education social workers would not be allowed to start work before the CRB check was seen. People feared that we would lose the chance of employing good staff who might not be prepared to wait and might seek employment elsewhere. This has not been the case and we have some brilliant staff! If all schools and services  insisted on waiting for the CRB check, it would become established practice and accepted as simply part of the recruitment process. People applying for more than one job would have the same expectation placed on them by each of the agencies they applied to.

The document reminds us that, ‘Anyone appointed to a post involving regular contact with children should be medically fit (See the Education (Health Standards) (England) Regulations 2003)… Circular 4/99 relating to medical fitness is being updated and new guidance will be issued.’

Recruitment records
A recruitment record must be kept for:

  • all staff employed who have regular contact with children and any employees that have been appointed since 12 May 2006
  • all staff employed by an agency
  • all others who have regular contact with children, including regular volunteers, governors who have regular contact with children and people brought in to provide additional teaching or other experience for pupils, eg a specialist sports coach or a community artist.

Information on CRB checks should be treated as confidential unless there is good reason to share information with another agency.
CRB checks should not be kept for more than six months, but before destroying them ‘records need to be kept detailing the date the disclosure was obtained, who obtained it (ie school, LA, supply agency), the level of the disclosure, and the unique reference number. The headteacher or principal or local authority will also want to consider keeping a note of what other information was used to assess suitability.’

Extended schools
All the rules already given apply to staff employed in a service or activity managed by school-based staff within the extended school provision. Where schools are planning to provide care for children under eight the provision must also be registered with Ofsted. If a school is used by other providers a written agreement should be in place and vetting arrangements should be part of this agreement.

Overseas staff and teachers
It is proposed that staff and teachers from overseas should be subject to the same checks as any other staff, however the proposals do go some way in recognising the difficulties that this will present. The new regulations will make CRB checks mandatory for these staff and it is expected that any staff employed since March 2002 who were not asked to complete a CRB check at the time of appointment must now be asked to do so. CRB checks for this group of staff will not detail offences committed abroad, so the DfES strongly advises that schools ask such staff to apply to their home police or embassy for a certificate of good conduct. Where an applicant is not able to provide such a certificate, schools must take great care in taking up references and extra references should be asked for. The paper also reminds us that it is always good practice to speak to referees directly.

Overall, the paper makes a good attempt to be as clear as possible about the necessity for checking staff and the process of doing so. However, reading it reminds me of just what a complex task this can be. The paper gives a number of short scenarios to demonstrate the process of decision-making that is sometimes necessary to establish whether checks should be made. This is helpful and I would have found it useful to have more short case studies for each section of the paper.
I would strongly advise anyone who employs staff to work in a school or service for children to get to grips with this consultation and make a response. Space has not allowed me to deal with it in greater length or detail here – another reason for reading it in full.