Common sense advice on safeguarding and volunteers
Volunteers are an important asset to a school. Schools rely on them. From the governors who give hours in the evening, to the parents who accompany the odd trip during the day, volunteers who help with reading schemes or run after school clubs, it is hard to imagine school life without them.
So it came as something of a shock when schools were informed that volunteers should be CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checked and would also need to register with ISA (Independent Safeguarding Authority). Not only did it send the school administration staff into frenetic activity, but school leaders glumly reflected on how many volunteers would choose not to bother rather than submit their details and be checked out.
It wasn’t only volunteers who were perplexed at the extent of the requirements of the new Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS). Many of those working incidentally with schools were finding that they too would be required to be ISA registered and CRB checked.
But there were exceptions. The requirement didn’t apply to all volunteers. Schools were informed that checks only applied to those working either frequently (once a month or more) or intensively (takes place on three or more days in a 30-day period). In other words, it should not affect those giving up their time for the odd day trip to the zoo - except if it was an overnight one that is.
Sir Roger Singleton review
It was evident from the number of queries that were being raised that this new scheme was going to be incredibly complex to apply. Even with a helpline in existence, there was the danger that the detail of the scheme and the number of anomalies to be dealt with would make it unmanageable. The good intention of minimising risk to young people could be lost in the weight of the bureaucracy surrounding it.
So followed the review by Sir Roger Singleton in December 2009 Drawing the Line, which reduced the requirement to register volunteers by redefining frequent as ‘once per week or more’ and intensive as ‘four days in one month or more’. However, this is a relatively small concession in what remained a difficult-to-manage process.
Singleton also recommended that the requirement to register was removed for those working frequently in different settings, rather than in a single setting. This exonerated visiting authors who had been particularly eloquent and vociferous objectors to the proposals.
Another contentious area had been the application of the rules to those involved in work experience. Singleton’s recommendations raised the age at which young people should be required to register from 16 to 18 where their involvement with a school was organised as part of their studies. With a few adjustments the Vetting and Barring Scheme lay ready for rollout.
Coalition and common sense
Whatever threat was posed prior to the general election has been somewhat dispersed since. The coalition government has clearly expressed its intention to ‘review the criminal records and vetting and barring regime and scale it back to common sense levels’. Of course, we are yet to know what ‘common sense levels’ might be, but the mood is definitely one of reduction in requirements. In the meantime what should schools do about their volunteers?
What should schools do?
To begin with, there is no need for any more frenzied activity to meet the 26 July start to ISA registration. This part of the implementation plan is currently on hold. Although it would appear that ISA is to have a role, it is unlikely to include the comprehensive registration that was initially planned for it.
Continue doing what you’re doing. During this period of moratorium there is a chance to consolidate the approach that your school has taken. Most schools have developed their system around the comprehensive registering and monitoring of all staff who come in to frequent and/or intensive contact with pupils. They’d be advised to stick to it. For the time being at least, whatever process is established for volunteers should be maintained until further notice.
Schools should continue to CRB check all volunteers who match the amended definition of frequent and intensive, and keep a list of them ready for Ofsted inspection.
For any prospective volunteer who queries this approach, the official line is that until the review has taken place the current legislation stands. This includes the October 2009 regulations, which are that:
- any barred person will be breaking the law if they work with or apply to work with children or vulnerable adults
- an organisation which knowingly employs someone who is barred to work with those groups will also be breaking the law
- if you dismiss a member of staff or a volunteer because they have harmed a child or vulnerable adult, or would have done so if they had not left, ISA must be informed.
Although these requirements refer to employees, the same would apply if it was a volunteer rather than a paid member of staff.
It isn’t only about the law. Schools need to have a clear approach to volunteers that ensures their own piece of mind when it comes to safe working practices. Schools would be wise to have their own ways of making sure that volunteers are kept informed, are properly inducted and are enabled to work safely with children and young people. For volunteers with regular involvement in your school this might include:
- have a member of staff with some responsibility for overseeing the work of volunteers and coordinating their involvement across the school
- arrange at least one annual meeting for potential and current volunteers. During this meeting schools might outline the way in which they work and the procedures that volunteers will need to follow
- apply good basic practice in terms of allocating volunteers to activities and individuals. Never expect too much of them or see them as making up numbers where a particular staffing-child ratio is needed
- ensure that volunteers should never be asked to take on a responsibility that requires them to be on their own with children. This is for their protection as well as the children’s
- provide some form of induction – ideally have some literature available that provides summaries of your most important policies and ensure that members of staff talk this through with the volunteer. Volunteers need to be aware of arrangements for fire safety, first aid and some basic information in relation to child protection
- have risk assessments in place for the involvement of volunteers in your school. This need not include a separate one for every individual, but should cover the range of tasks and activities they are asked to do
- ensure that those working frequently/ intensively/ overnight with children do have a CRB check and that the details are recorded
- report any serious concerns about individuals to ISA.
For those who are perhaps volunteering on a one-off or very sporadic basis most of these suggestions still apply, but schools will temper the content of induction to the particular requirements of the event the volunteer is supporting. So, for example, where an adult is accompanying a school trip then they need to know the health and safety guidance for that trip, the itinerary and be aware of contingencies. They need not be bombarded with every policy you have ever produced.
In the end, it is common sense. A school must be vigilant for its staff and equally vigilant for its volunteers. Spending a little extra time considering their needs and ensuring that they are not just swept along in your day-to-day business will help everyone get the most from this welcome and valuable resource.