Page last updated at 11:37 GMT, Sunday, 13 December 2009

Schools criminal records checks system to be diluted

Ed Balls: "It's where the responsibility is, not with the parent but with the organistion"

Rules requiring about 11 million people working with children to register with a new agency and have criminal records checks are to be watered down.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has accepted recommendations of a review he ordered into the vetting and barring scheme for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The checks will now involve only those working with the same children once a week, not once a month, for example.

It is thought the new rules will apply to about two million fewer people.

The checks, intended to protect children, had caused concern among teachers and parents.

A source at the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the original plans had had "unintended consequences" and the changes would protect children without being too burdensome or bureaucratic.

Teachers' letter

The scheme, administered by the newly set-up Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), is intended to protect children from paedophiles and others who might harm them.

It will affect people mainly working in schools and sports clubs.

Mr Balls denied making a U-turn on the proposals, saying that there had been a "ludicrous over-reaction" to the proposals from some schools and organisations.

He told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show that he wanted a "common sense" way of making sure children were safe from people "who do terrible things".

Mr Balls said parents trust schools and organisations to look after their children and it was right to ensure that trust was not misplaced.

The whole thing seems to be based on the feeling that you can't trust anyone
Author Philip Pullman

The minimum age of registration is being changed so that it does not include 16, 17 and 18 year olds in education who help out with school activities.

And parents who host children on exchange visits of less than 28 days will no longer need to register.

The changes also mean it will not now apply to authors who visit different schools unless their contact with groups of children is frequent. A number of leading writers, including Philip Pullman and Anthony Horowitz, had criticised the system.

Mr Pullman told the BBC the original plans had been "absurd" and he welcomed the changes.

However, he said such regulation remained "fundamentally unhealthy".

He said: "The whole thing seems to be based on the feeling that you can't trust anyone, that everyone is a suspect until they're proved innocent, and of course you can never entirely do that so everybody has to remain a suspect."

'Common sense victory'

Last week, head teachers said the rules were too bureaucratic and would not guarantee safety.

In a letter to Mr Balls, the seven main representative organisations for school and college leaders suggested that volunteer helpers could be deterred, resulting in fewer work placements and language exchanges.

One of the bodies, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the changes just announced were "a victory for common sense".

ASCL general secretary Dr John Dunford said: "The previous rules would have unintended consequences for schools and parents and have set out a system that is much more proportionate to risk.

"We recognise the over-riding duty of heads to ensure the safety of children. We can now exercise this responsibility in a more sensible climate.

Registration fees

The scheme, which began in October, requires people to register with the ISA if they have regular, frequent or intensive access to children.

It costs £64 to register but volunteers have their fees waived.

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 scheme takes in a basic criminal records check but does not look for malpractice or all convictions if they are not relevant.

The ISA is being phased in across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Individuals will be able to apply to register from July 2010. Registration and the checking of people's status will be mandatory from November 2010.

A separate but aligned scheme will be introduced in Scotland next year and anyone barred in any part of the UK will also be barred from working with children and vulnerable adults anywhere else.



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SEE ALSO
School leaders criticise vetting
11 Dec 09 |  Education
Q&A: Vetting and Barring Scheme
11 Sep 09 |  Education

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Times Online Vetting scheme climbdown after writer's complaints - 3 hrs ago
Press Association Balls defends vetting scale back - 7 hrs ago
Telegraph Nine million face paedophile checks despite Ed Balls U-turn - 8 hrs ago
Mirror.co.uk Schools welcome vetting rule U-turn - 23 hrs ago



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