School leaders criticise new vetting and barring system
Head teacher Julie Robinson: "We are supervising people, we know they're safe"
New rules on who can work with children are too bureaucratic and will not guarantee safety, say head teachers.
They have written to ministers calling for a rethink of the vetting and barring scheme which covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Volunteer helpers could be deterred, resulting in fewer work placements and language exchanges, they say.
The government says most of the issues raised were already being considered by a review due to report back shortly.
The new scheme, which began only in October, has been beset with criticism from a range of people, including some prominent authors such as Philip Pullman and Anthony Horowitz, who regularly visit schools.
Following this, Sir Roger Singleton, chairman of the new Independent Safeguarding Authority which carries out the vetting, was asked to look at issues needing clarification.
SIGNATORIES TO THE LETTER
Dr John Dunford, Association of School and College Leaders
Sheila Cooper, Girls' School Association
Geoff Lucas, Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference
David Hanson, Independent Association of Prep Schools
Neil Roskilly, Independent Schools Association
Mick Brookes, National Association of Head Teachers
Dr David Richardson, Society of Heads of Independent Schools
The letter to Children's Secretary Ed Balls, from the seven main representative organisations for school and college leaders, says they take very seriously their duty to protect youngsters but the newly introduced system is "disproportionate to risk".
The new scheme requires people to register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority if they have regular, frequent or intensive access to children.
It costs £64 to register but volunteers have their fees waived.
"Regular" is defined as more than once a month and "intensive" as three times a month or more.
The ISA draws on a range of information sources to maintain lists of people deemed unsuitable to work with children or with vulnerable adults.
The school leaders say there will be a reduction in the support of parent volunteers in schools, for example for school plays and fund raising, as a result.
They also say it might become difficult to get emergency support staff such as plumbers, heating engineers and lunchtime supervisors.
School leaders foresee problems for classroom helpers
And they say there are bureaucratic hurdles to senior school pupils helping out in junior schools - as they do for example with reading or with maths and science clubs.
They warn: "Concern has also been expressed by colleagues that there could be a sense of false security engendered by the completion of checks."
"We do need systems to help keep children safe, but possibly not these ones."
The signatories represent both the state and independent school sectors and call for a review of the whole system.
It grew out of the Bichard Inquiry into the murders of two schoolgirls in Soham, Cambridgeshire, by Ian Huntley.
The letter also said: "It is also worth reminding you that Ian Huntley might well not have been exposed by the CRB [Criminal Records Bureau] system."
The ISA began work in October and is being phased in across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a similar scheme for Scotland.
Children's Minister Delyth Morgan said: "Ensuring we have a system that is robust but proportionate is crucially important, and that is why these concerns are being considered by Sir Roger as part of his check of the system.
It will put people off being involved and it really leaves a nasty taste in the mouth
Julie Robinson, Independent Association of Prep Schools
"We know that as part of Sir Roger's work, he has had representations directly from the head teacher unions and the Independent Schools Council, which represents the independent sector organisations that have signed the letter.
"We are sure their views will be considered in forming his recommendations, which are due to be published shortly."
Head teacher Julie Robinson is the vice-chairman of the Independent Association of Prep Schools. She isn't convinced the changes will be effective:
"We don't really feel that it will be a watertight system, however thoroughly it's enforced. We feel that this is just another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy which in fact will prevent us from doing our job properly.
"It will put people off being involved and it really leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. It's as if we're suspicious of everyone who wants to come and support us. And we really, genuinely respect their support and need the support of these helpers, on school trips, for sports, for all sorts of things within schools."
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