Safety laws threaten exchange trips, say head teachers

date.png Fri 11th Dec time.png 16:00 [Tag] Safeguarding

Head teachers from state and independent schools have joined forces to attack new safety laws that could jeopardise language exchange trips and work experience placements.

Safety laws threaten exchange trips, say head teachers

Nicola Woolcock, Education Correspondent The Times 11Dec09

All the head teachers’ associations have written to Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, asking for a meeting to discuss their concerns about the Vetting and Barring Scheme. The new obligations, being phased in over five years, include ensuring that anyone in contact with children has a Criminal Records Bureau (CR check and is registered with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA).

The heads say that the legislation is excessive, disproportionate and will do nothing to protect children. A letter to Mr Balls has been signed by seven organisations including the powerful Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents 250 leading independent schools; the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA); the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL); and the National Association of Head Teachers.

They said: “The unintended consequences of the system are excessive bureaucracy, potential damage to voluntary sports, and reduction in work placement opportunities.” Other activities put at risk include “community engagement projects, the Duke of Edinburgh Award programme, and visiting speakers”.

Related Links ‘Talented pupils not being tested enough’ CRB paranoia won’t stop another Soham The letter added that it could bring an end to “language exchange trips resulting in considerable negative impact on the teaching of modern languages”. Heads fear that it could also reduce the number of parent volunteers for school plays, trips and fundraising, and place bureaucratic hurdles in the way of senior school pupils helping in junior schools. Even calling out an emergency plumber or dinner lady on short notice could be impeded.

“There could be a sense of false security engendered by the completion of checks. It is also worth reminding you that Ian Huntley [who murdered two schoolgirls in Soham] might well not have been exposed by the CRB system.”

The heads are asking for a meeting with Mr Balls, or Sir Roger Singleton, the head of the ISA, who is reviewing the scheme and expected to report his findings next week.

John Dunford, general-secretary of the ASCL, said that Mr Balls had agreed to meet them. Dr Dunford said that he hoped for a better balance between the need to safeguard children and the avoidance of unintended consequences for school activities.

Ian Power, membership secretary of the HMC, said: “This is a very big issue as thousands of sixth formers are involved in community service, and there’s a possibility they would have to be registered with the ISA. Our schools are also concerned about language exchanges as host families will potentially have to register, and if they do so they may be monitored for life, and that might discourage people.

“We feel passionately that we don’t want to lose these two elements. Some schools have deferred deciding whether or not to do exchanges next year until these concerns are addressed, because they do not want to carry out CRB checks on 50 or 60 families.”

Jill Berry, president of the GSA, described the system as bureaucratic insanity. “Every time there’s a disaster, the Government puts measures in place that become more and more ludicrous. With the foreign exchange programmes, there’s a risk that everyone over 18 in the household would have to be CRB checked, but not the families that British children are staying with. A lot of schools are saying it may be more trouble than it’s worth. It’s making it difficult for schools to act reasonably and responsibly.”

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families, 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. He has had representations directly from the head-teacher unions and the Independent Schools Council. We are sure their views will be considered in forming his recommendations.”

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