Schools suspend staff in child protection confusion

Hundreds of teachers and support staff have been suspended amid confusion over child protection rules in England’s schools, say unions.

Some 300 school staff who live with someone with a conviction for a violent or sexual crime face disqualification, says public sector union, Unison.

It wants the government to clarify guidance to primary schools introduced late last year.

The government says schools must “use their judgement” in applying the rules.

The regulations were brought in for childminders and day nurseries in 2009 but at the end of last year, the government said they also applied to primary schools.

As a result, staff are being asked to complete disclosure forms and are immediately suspended if a member of their household has committed a disqualifiable offence.

‘Limbo’

Suspended staff can apply for a waiver from Ofsted, but are barred from their jobs while they wait.

Unison’s head of education Jon Richards told BBC Radio 5 live a growing numbers of cases included teaching assistants and lunchtime supervisors.

“Many members of staff are being suspended for issues completely unrelated to child safety.

“Staff who have been in post for a long time and have demonstrated that they do not pose a risk are being suspended and left in limbo.

“The way that this advice has been rolled out means schools are misapplying it and suspending staff for issues unrelated to the regulations.

“We are also concerned that Ofsted may not have the capacity to deal with all these cases quickly which will be disruptive for both staff and pupils.”

One teaching assistant, who asked not be named, said she had been suspended and faced disqualification because her husband was convicted of grievous bodily harm 20 years ago.

‘It was a stupid mistake as a young person. He paid his debt and it was done. Now I could lose my job of 13 years and my reputation.

“I’m being punished even though I have never committed a crime. I’m a sitting duck. It’s just so unfair.”

Schools have been struggling to work out who is covered by the regulations.

Government advice says they apply to anyone providing education or childcare for under-fives or care, such as after-school clubs, for under-eights.

Primary classroom
The new rules will do nothing to improve children’s safety, say schools

Many local authorities have interpreted this to include all primary staff.

The National Association of Head Teachers says its helpline has been “flooded” with calls about the issue.

General secretary Russell Hobby wants urgent clarification.

‘We all want children to be safe in school but these regulations are not yet in a workable state. At present they are designed for childcare in the home, not school settings,” said Mr Hobby.

“They will prevent good and trustworthy staff from doing their jobs and wrap schools up in unnecessary red tape, distracting them from real safeguarding issues and the hard work of raising standards.”

‘Complete Scandal’

On condition of anonymity, one headteacher told 5 live of “grave concerns”.

“We are awaiting further advice before we take this to staff but I know of at least two people who would be caught out by it.

“For them the consequences would be personally devastating: they would lose jobs that they do very well; and for the school there would be disruption and upset which is bound to have an impact on the children.

“All of this from a measure which would not make any child one tiny bit safer. It is a complete scandal.”

Education lawyers have suggested applying the rules to primary schools could be challenged under the Human Rights Act.

A Department for Education spokesman said the requirements were not new and the law had not changed.

“Nothing is more important than keeping children safe and schools should ensure this is paramount in everything they do.

“Schools and governing bodies should use their judgement when deciding which school staff are covered and where it is deemed necessary to take action.”

Ofsted confirmed an increase in the number of waiver applications from the regulations and said it was processing them as quickly as possible.

A spokeswoman warned that this could take time, particularly in more serious or complex cases.

“We appreciate the inconvenience this may cause to some staff affected. However, parents and carers would expect us to take all necessary steps to ensure that children are safeguarded.”

The spokeswoman added that no-one had yet lost their job because of the regulations.

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