New Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS): What it means for private tutors

I always take a deep breath before writing anything on child protection: it’s a really complex area. However, there have been some recent developments which are important to private tutors, and to anyone looking to hire one. I’ll try and explain as concisely as I can.

Firstly, a little context. When the Coalition government came to power in 2010, it promised to scale back what were widely seen as draconian child protection measures introduced by the previous Labour government. Under Labour’s ‘Vetting and Barring Scheme’ around nine million UK adults were to be placed on a database; in the current government’s own words:

“This would have been disproportionate and could have perpetuated the belief that everyone who wants to work with vulnerable groups poses a risk … No government-led scheme can ensure that abuse and neglect never occur. Barring checks are only one tool to help employers”

As a result, the law was changed last year under The Protection of Freedoms Act to abolish Labour’s system of registration and monitoring, a scheme much hated and never fully implemented. In its place, as of December 2012, the result is the new and streamlined Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) which, in brief:

  • claims to be ‘proportionate’, reducing the number of positions requiring barring checks to around 5 million;
  • merges the functions of the former Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA);
  • issues a single criminal records certificate sent only to the applicant, thus allowing individuals to challenge information disclosed about them before it is given to their employer;
  • introduces ‘portable’ criminal records checks. This will put an end to the practice of issuing multiple certificates for every role or position an individual works in – what was perceived as a wasteful aspect of the old system, and the subject of much ridicule. The solution to the problem is the so-called Update Service which, according to the Home Office, ‘will allow individuals (if they choose to subscribe to it, and pay a small fee) to apply for a criminal record check once and then, if they need a similar sort of check again, to reuse their existing certificate, with their organisation checking online to see if it is still up to date’.


What does it all mean for private tutors?

For private tutors who have been issued with a CRB certificate by an employer or other organisation, the change means very little in reality. This is because it is the sole responsibility of the employer or organisation to adapt to the new system. However, tutors should be aware that:

  • The new name for a CRB check is a DBS check, and newly issued certificates will be DBS branded;
  • Old CRB branded certificates are still ‘valid’. I say ‘valid’ because CRB/DBS certificates are in effect out-of-date the moment they are issued, and rather amazingly, it is up to the employer to decide how long a certificate should ‘last’. Employers tend to request a new check every three years or so, but according to the Home Office, ‘There are no Government recommendations as to the frequency of re-checks as they only form one part of the recruitment and employment process’.
  • the new Update Service – useful for individuals who have a number of different employers, and who want to ‘port’ their certificate from one employer to the next – will get going this Spring. If you’re interested, you can subscribe to the DBS mailing list to get free updates on this and other developments.


What if I’m a self-employed tutor and would like a DBS certificate to show to parents?

A DBS check is not a legal requirement for working as a self-employed tutor, though it is of course a serious criminal offence to seek to work with children after having been barred from doing so. Self-employed individuals have never been able to apply for a DBS certificate themselves, and the new legislation does nothing to change that. There are, however, several options open to the self-employed as follows:

  • Disclosure Scotland. The government’s own advice suggests that a ‘basic check’ can be obtained from Disclosure Scotland (the sister organisation of the DBS), whether an individual lives in Scotland, England or Wales.
  • Contracting organisations. If an organisation contracts with a self-employed person for the delivery of a service, it may involve a DBS certificate. The most obvious option for tutors are private tuition agencies which, as of October 2010, are legally required to process DBS checks for all tutors working with children. Another similar alternative to joining a tuition agency is explained here.
  • Endorsement organisations. Some professional bodies or trade organisations apply for DBS checks on behalf of their members, such as the Musicians’ Union. It is worth contacting any professional bodies relevant to your expertise, and you may therefore find helpful the government’s database of DBS umbrella bodies.
  • ‘Subject Access Request’. This is an option where your local police force provides you with a certificate with similar information to a DBS certificate at the cost of £10. Since local arrangements vary for obtaining an application form, according to the police information website, ‘the easiest way is to telephone your local police and ask to speak to the Data Protection team. In order to complete the form you need to provide two forms of identification, one with your name and a photograph (passport or driving licence) and the other with your current address (a recent utility bill or bank statement) and a cheque or postal order for the appropriate sum’.

If any self-employed tutors have any useful experience of the above methods, let us know; it has also been discussed in a thread on the Tutor Pages forum.

Finally, something should be said on how effective DBS checks actually are in protecting children. As anyone who looks into this will discover, there is a huge amount of heated debate, and very little evidence-based research. Recent government announcements, however, seems to be moving towards the recognition that paper credentials are no substitute for real human vigilance, a position held by many professionals in this area. For example, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, Minister for Criminal Information, noted in a recent statement that,

“it is also important that employers do not just rely on checks by the DBS to make recruitment decisions. They have a professional duty to ensure that staff are properly managed and supervised and that, if they have concerns, information is referred to both the police and the DBS”.

I shall be exploring the issue of child protection in the private tuition context in a blog post later this year.