Phillip Noyes is director of policy at the children’s charity NSPCC. Here he talks to Amy Taylor about the recent controversy about sex offenders being able to work in schools.
What do you think about the current situation where somebody can be a sex offender but not be banned from working in a school?
We want to find a way of ensuring all children are safe from dangerous adults. Any vetting and barring scheme needs to be fail-safe. The default position is barring individuals pending further action. The barred individual should be able to demonstrate his or her fitness to work with children. This should be a continuing as well as a one off process, involving frequent re-checking. The pre-cautionary principal here is that no-one should be regarded as being safe to work directly with children and young people unless they can demonstrate that (i) they are not subject to any disqualifying factor and (ii) that they have the necessary skills, knowledge and aptitude to do so.
The education secretary Ruth Kelly has called a review of all cases of sex offenders who have not been banned from working in schools. Do you welcome this move and what would you like to see coming out of the review?
We welcome this move. There needs to be absolute clarity about who needs to be covered by safety arrangements. As new roles are created there is a need to assess the extent to which they involve an opportunity to maltreat children or behave inappropriately towards them. Arrangements must be capable of taking account of changing roles. Those whose contact with children is both direct and unsupervised clearly need to be covered by the arrangements, but there are many other roles where a person could pose a risk – for example those who have access to confidential data about children and young people (e.g. medical or social care records). Clearly it is not just employees, but also volunteers, who need to be covered by the arrangements.
Kelly has also said that she will review the decision-making process around such cases. The decision to bar somebody from working with children lies with civil servants and the education secretary. What do you think needs to happen?
We would like to see all assessments undertaken by child protection and sex offender management experts. There should be one single list of all those who are disqualified for reasons other than a conviction/caution/reprimand/warning. This list should apply to all situations in which employees work with children – it is confusing to have lists which apply separately to education, social care and health.
You have raised concern that there are still people working with school children who are not covered by existing legislation. Can you go into a bit more detail on this?
There are a number of categories of childcare where we understand it is not mandatory to undertake a Criminal Records Bureau check. These are:
· All childcare settings providing services for over eights, including after school clubs and childminders looking after children over eight
· Any childcare setting providing care for less than 2 hours, for children of any age
· Holiday play schemes working for less than 6 days a year
· Children under 16 (but over 13) who are working in a child employment setting.
These categories may come under the Safeguarding Bill, following up on the Bichard Inquiry Recommendations, which we would welcome.
Following a recommendation in the Bichard Report List 99 (a list of people barred from working in schools) and the Protection of Children Act 1999 (a list of people barred from working with children) are to be combined into a central vetting scheme. How can this scheme improve the current situation?
We understand that there is the intention to align List 99, the Protection of Children Act list and the Protection of Vulnerable Adults list, but we have also heard that there is the possibility of combining ‘all seven datasets’ which are for individuals deemed to be unsuitable to work with children for a number of reasons. We recommended to the Bichard inquiry that there should be one single list of all those who are a risk to children, as we believe it is necessary to have a single point of reference for all those agencies and institutions who work with children to have a single point of access to determine whether an individual poses any risk. This would speed up the process, and would ensure that the criteria for inclusion of dangerous adults on the list were the same.
1)The recent General Teaching Council suggestion that the barred list for teachers by maintained by the Council is to be resisted for this reason
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