Page last updated at 14:23 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 15:23 UK

School safety 'insult' to Pullman

Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman said children had never been in danger from visiting authors

Several high-profile authors are to stop visiting schools in protest at new laws requiring them to be vetted to work with youngsters.

Philip Pullman, author of fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, said the idea was "ludicrous and insulting".

Former children's laureates Anne Fine and Michael Morpurgo have hit out at the scheme which costs £64 per person.

Officials say the checks have been misunderstood and authors will only need them if they go to schools often.

The Home Office says the change, being introduced from October, will help protect children.

Michael Morpurgo: "I won't be going into schools if this is brought in"

The measure was drafted in response to recommendations made by the inquiry into the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002, by college caretaker Ian Huntley.

Anyone who has "regular" or "intense" contact with children or vulnerable adults will by law have to sign up to the Vetting and Barring Scheme from November 2010.

"Regular" is defined as more than once a month and "intense" as three times a month or more, the Home Office says.

The authors, including fantasy writer Mr Pullman, say they have worked in schools for years without ever being left alone with children.

Mr Pullman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's actually rather dispiriting and sinister.

"Why should I pay £64 to a government agency to give me a little certificate to say I'm not a paedophile.

"Children are abused in the home, not in classes of 30 or groups of 200 in the assembly hall with teachers looking on."

Anthony Horowitz - author of the popular Alex Rider series - wrote in a comment article for the Independent: "In essence, I'm being asked to pay £64 to prove that I am not a paedophile.

"After 30 years writing books, visiting schools, hospitals, prisons, spreading an enthusiasm for culture and literacy, I find this incredibly insulting."

He added that the database "poisons the special relationship that exists between children and authors they admire".

Only authors who plan to go into schools regularly - once a month or more - will have to be registered. And the government has said the fees will be paid for authors, provided they are not being paid to visit schools.

Vetting and Barring Scheme
In October, the scheme to vet everyone who wants to work or volunteer with children or "vulnerable people" will begin - becoming compulsory in November 2010
The Independent Safeguarding Authority will carry out the checks on behalf of the Home Office
It covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland
It will incorporate CRB and replace List 99 and other checks
Once passed, an individual will not need separate checks for each place they work or volunteer in
The checks will be necessary for anyone who has "regular" (once a month) or intense (three times a month) contact with children or vulnerable adults
The changes were brought in to try to close loopholes in the system after the murders of schoolgirls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells by school caretaker Ian Huntley in 2002

Anyone who is barred will go on a separate register and could face up to five years in prison if they try to get work in a job covered by the regulations.

Anne Fine, author of more than 50 books including the Killer Cat series, told the Independent the rules would leave children "further impoverished" and that she would only visit foreign schools in future.

"The whole idea of vetting any adult who visits many schools, but each only for a day, and then always in the presence of other adults, is deeply offensive," she added.

Michael Morpurgo, author of modern classics such as Private Peaceful, told BBC News he would not go into schools unless the rules were changed.

"This sours the relationship between ourselves and the schools and the children. This is one step too far."

But new children's laureate Anthony Browne has said writers should not be exempt.

"I feel that as writers we shouldn't necessarily be granted an exemption," he told The Guardian.

"If all people who work with children have to be vetted by the police then we shouldn't be an exception."

But government officials have suggested many authors will not need checks to visit schools.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "These checks have been misunderstood. Authors will not have to register with the Vetting and Barring Scheme if they work with children once or infrequently.

"In fact, people working in schools will only be required to register if they work with children on a regular basis.

"This is because visitors to schools, even if they are supervised by a teacher at all times, are being placed in a unique position of trust where they can easily become deeply liked and trusted by pupils.

"We therefore need to be sure that this trust is well placed in case pupils bump into them out of school where a teacher is not present.

"While we fully accept that the vast majority of workers or volunteers would never abuse their position of trust, parents would not want adults working regularly with young children, even on a voluntary basis, without any sort of background check at all."

A Home Office spokesman said: "The UK already has one of the most advanced systems in the world for carrying out checks on all those who work in positions of trust with children and vulnerable adults.

"From October this year the new Vetting and Barring Scheme will ensure these regulations are even more rigorous."

The Home Office says various new regulations will have meant that more than five million more jobs and voluntary posts - including most NHS positions - will be subject to checks.

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