In a dramatic move, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s pledged today to “strip away government’s unelected, inefficient quangos” as he set out plans for political reform.
Along with scrapping ID cards, the most significant scheme to be dismantled will be the ContactPoint Database which was to hold the details of of 11 million under-18s. However, there has been no mention of the controversial Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) which was designed to prevent unsuitable adults working with children and vulnerable adults.
Will this scheme also be up for political reform?
Before the election, the Conservative Party promised to “scale back” the VBS to “common sense levels”. But we have no indication to date of what shape that reform might take.
Meanwhile thousands of organisations up and down the country are only just starting to get to grips with what the VBS means for them. Last week the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) and the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) ran a superb seminar on the VBS and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) which is administering the Scheme. Yvonne Spencer and Con Alexander of Veale Wasbrough Vizards must be commended for their clarity and patience in explaining the very complex issues which surround the implementation of the Scheme.
Admitting that the VBS is difficult even for lawyers in this field, it was suggested that with the change of government came a chance for organisations to make representations to try to simplify the system.
So how are organisations coping so far?
The overwhelming impression I had from the seminar was that accurate interpretation of regulated activity (i.e. who must join the ISA database) was so confusing that organisations would probably simply take a belt and braces approach and sign everyone they could up to the Scheme. This is despite the costs involved. To give a concrete example, a musician playing in a professional British orchestra would probably be compelled to sign up, because he or she may at some point have ‘frequent’ or ‘intensive’ contact with children during a community outreach programme.
Extraordinary details (at least to me) came to light during the seminar. For example, how, even with the ISA Scheme in place, performing an Enhanced CRB check on a new member of staff is currently a requirement (even Sir Roger Singleton has seen the absurdity of this, and has suggested that this requirement be relaxed). Moreover, with our attention so firmly focussed on the implications of working with children, there was a warning that many are likely to neglect the definition of ‘vulnerable adult’ – which can (amongst countless other things) include a person who is ‘receiving any form of healthcare’! One of the few lighter moments came as one questioner asked whether the £64 ISA registration fee might be tax deductable (well, why not?).
As the details of their statutory obligations begin to sink in, thousands of organisations are having to decide how to orientate themselves in respect of the wider issue of child protection. Not only must they make sure they’re not breaking the law, but they have to decide what other measures might be necessary to demonstrate their commitment to safeguarding and the promotion of child welfare. As far as I am aware, only schools currently have an obligation to put in place child protection policies and procedures, but organisations of all types are increasingly becoming concerned about reputation management. According to Veale Wasbrough Vizards, a safeguarding policy should cover aspects such as: roles and responsibilities; recruitment of staff; safe working practice for staff (including a Code of Conduct); definition and signs of abuse; procedures for reporting concerns; dealing with allegations against staff; and review and monitoring of policy. The Incorporated Society of Musicians’ (ISM) Code of Practice was held up as a very helpful example of good practice in this area.
It might legitimately be asked what relevance all this has to private tutoring when private tutors have no legal obligations to join the VBS? Well, firstly, a large percentage of private tutors will be affected because their work in schools and for other Regulated Activity Providers (RAPs) will mean that they will have to sign up anyway. But secondly, this legislation will have strong repercussions for the society we live in. As the Scheme is rolled out over the coming years, there may be an increased climate of fear surrounding private tuition. Tragically, this attitude would be in denial of all that’s known about the risk of child abuse from teachers and other professionals. The most comprehensive study that’s ever been conducted into child abuse in the UK reported that, of those children who experienced sexual abuse outside of the family, very few (less than 1%) experienced abuse by professionals in a position of trust, for example from teachers, doctors, social/care workers or religious leaders.