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Headteachers slam 'disproportionate' vetting database

Cynical ISA makes claims they cannot support

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Yet more bad news for the government’s vetting and barring scheme, which went live in October of this year. Head teachers today condemned it as bureaucratic and unlikely to guarantee the safety of those it is meant to protect.

Meanwhile, claims that the scheme is the best solution on offer due to extensive and carefully thought-through consultation lie in tatters as a minor "review", currently being carried out by Sir Roger Singleton, expands to cover more and more aspects of the vetting scheme.

The broadside from head teachers comes in the form of a letter from seven bodies that collectively represent the majority of school and college leaders in the UK. They include the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, the Independent Schools Association and the National Association of Head Teachers.

Whilst affirming that they take seriously their duty to protect youngsters, they also argue that the new system is "disproportionate to risk".

The Independent Safeguarding Authority requires any adults who have regular, frequent or intensive access to children to register with them, at a one-off fee of £64 – although volunteers will be able to register free.

The fine print behind these terms is currently under review, but at present, guidance suggests that any individual who has contact with a particular class of vulnerable people – not necessarily the same individuals – three or more times in any three month period will need to be registered.

The school leaders believe that the results of the scheme will be largely negative. There will be reduced parent volunteer support in schools, as well as difficulties in obtaining emergency support staff such as plumbers, heating engineers and midday meals supervisors.

The scheme will make it harder for senior school pupils to help out in junior schools. Critics have also warned that school exchange programmes may be harmed.

In response, the Department for Children, Schools and Families told the BBC: "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.

"We know that as part of his 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."

Whatever the outcome, it seems increasingly likely that policy is now being made on the hoof - and hurriedly. The Singleton review was initially designed to consider "the precise interpretation of a particular aspect of the scheme; that is, the degree of contact with children which should trigger the requirement to register".

As criticisms of the scheme grow, the number of fundamental questions pitched at the review is also growing.

The head teachers have also questioned why the vetting scheme continues to be justified as a response to the actions of Ian Huntley in Soham. Their letter states: "It is also worth reminding you that Ian Huntley might well not have been exposed by the CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) system."

Ian Huntley was not working with the girls he murdered: his partner was. However, in respect of various situations, including the taking in of exchange students, the vetting database will specifically exclude the vetting of "other adults" in a household.

The fact that the ISA continue to instance the case of Ian Huntley in support of their work might therefore be considered in some quarters to be little more than cynical spin. ®

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