Would you leave your child alone with a cabinet minister?
Govt says kids safer with politicians than authors
Whilst he was quick to re-assure that nothing was therefore implied about Philip Pullman or any other author, El Reg is concerned that the DCSF hasn’t done its research too well. As Anne Fine points out, most authors only visit a school once in a year or more. Therefore, the chances of them establishing a relationship based on frequency of contact is slight: and according to a school governor with whom we have spoken, best practice within schools is never to leave a visitor alone with children.
The new approach to vetting is due to launch this October, and will be introduced gradually over the next five years, although the likelihood of it surviving a Tory administration is slight. The system, to be supervised by the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), will function alongside the current system of criminal records bureau (CRB) checks. In many cases it will do away with the need for CRB checks that are currently carried out on anyone wishing to work with vulnerable groups (children, disabled and elderly) – and a key benefits is that it will do away with the need for multiple checks.
This is because it will consist of a database of people who have been vetted, and either passed as OK to work with the vulnerable or "barred", and a Board to oversee vetting decisions. The standard of checking will be to what is known as the CRB enhanced level, which means that not only will actual criminal convictions be taken into account – but also allegations made to the Police and, it is expected, "soft intelligence" about individuals.
In other words, despite Home Office assurances to the contrary, the base will include elements that are no more than "gossip and rumour". The use of such data was sanctioned by the case of John Pinnington, when courts ruled that even where police knew there to be little or no substance to an allegation, they had a duty to record it and pass it on to employers.
If the system survives, it is likely to impact on the lives of a significant proportion of the UK population. The Home Office estimates 11 million people will need to be vetted and added to the database (for a fee of £64): our own analysis suggests the figure could be much higher – perhaps as high as 14 to 16 million.
This will deprive thousands of children of the positive and educational experience of meeting an author, but at least they will still be able to enjoy the educational experience of meeting a government minister.