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Child Protection Issues for Writers in Schools
Wed 22 Jul 2009
New government rules, being introduced from October 2009, will undoubtedly affect writers who work in schools. In view of some highly misleading publicity, NAWE is here offering some clarifications, based on the best information available at this time.

The new measures

From 12 October 2009, new measures will be introduced to help prevent unsuitable people from undertaking work with children or vulnerable adults. This is called the Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS).

To help implement the Scheme a new public body called the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) has been created to make decisions over who should be barred. These decisions are legally binding so a barred person must not undertake certain roles under any circumstances. Failing to comply could result in both the employer and the employee being prosecuted and even going to prison.

From July 2010 all new employees, those moving jobs and volunteers who want to work with children or vulnerable adults can register with the ISA.

From November 2010, all new employees and volunteers must register before they start work. From then it will be illegal to employ people who are not ISA-registered.

Employers will be required to check that prospective employees are ISA-registered before they can legally take them on. This check can be made online for free.

Writers will be able to apply for ISA-registration via a CRB umbrella body, such as NAWE. The cost will be £64. This is a one-off cost that will last for life.

ISA-registration will not replace CRB Disclosures, which must be carried out as before, where required.

Further information at www.isa-gov.org.uk

Why all the fuss?

Over the past few years, most writers seeking work in schools have needed an Enhanced Disclosure from the CRB (Criminal Records Bureau). This was not an absolute legal requirement, but it was a condition of any publicly funded residency, and one that agencies (including NAWE) were willing to comply with in order to provide schools with the simple assurances they needed.

Most writers are familiar with this scheme of things, and have accepted its necessity. The authors who have spoken out so vociferously against the new law are high-profile figures who have perhaps been lucky enough to by-pass such requirements, schools perhaps not daring to ask such prominent figures for their Disclosures. (Such authors often talk to the whole school, rather than run small workshops, but this is no argument whatsoever against checks being made, as various letters in the press have pointed out.)

Why the confusion?

The 'top level' information about the new law speaks of 'all employees' being required to register. The more detailed documentation however suggests that only those who work 'frequently' or 'intensively' need to do so. 'Frequently' means once a month or more; 'intensively' means 3 days or more in a single month.

If there is one thing about the new law that NAWE would wish to challenge, it is the ambiguity of this qualification. A writer may work many days per month in schools but only for two days in any one particular institution. It would then seem to be legal for that school to engage the writer's services without checking that he or she is ISA-registered. In practice, it is highly likely that all schools will make it an absolute condition that a writer is registered. Also, if an agency is the employer - placing the writer in various schools - then the agency would undoubtedly need to check the writer's registration.

Where we stand

As with CRB Disclosures, ISA-registration looks set to be a flawed scheme, and certainly not one that will in any absolute sense guarantee the safety of young people. Given the schedule for introducing the new law, and the level of argument currently taking place, it is quite possible that further amendments will be made. NAWE however is inclined to believe that the new precautions are being introduced with young people's safety at heart and at trivial inconvenience to professional writers. NAWE's Director, Paul Munden, has made the following interim statement:

NAWE will seek to clarify whether or not its members need to be ISA-registered and will process applications for all those who need them, along with Disclosures. Since the fee is a one-off payment, we do not consider it to be beyond the reasonable means of writers undertaking regular work in schools, and would suggest that all parties - writers, schools and agencies - would operate with greater mutual peace of mind if they comply with this relatively simple piece of bureaucracy. We do not at present see why any exception to the law should be made for writers.

All feedback is of course welcome. There will be ample chance to discuss this matter at the NAWE Conference before a formal stance is adopted.

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Contact Information:
Organisation:
National Association of Writers in Education
Contact Name:
Paul Munden
Contact Email:
paul@nawe.co.uk

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