Latest Public Sector News

21.01.15

Hundreds of school staff suspended as a result of DfE safeguarding guidance

Hundreds of school staff, including teachers, are being suspended because of government child protection guidance.

According to public sector union Unison, more than 300 staff are thought to have been suspended after they complied with requirements to disclose if they are living with someone who has been convicted for a violent or sexual crime.

Staff who report such a connection are not allowed to work in schools unless they have a waiver from Ofsted.

Unison’s head of education, Jon Richards, said: "Unison is totally committed to the safeguarding of children. However there are serious question marks over whether the Department for Education's supplementary advice to schools is an effective tool in child protection. It has already resulted in hundreds of innocent staff being suspended from schools.

"Because the regulations apply to people living or working in the same household, 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.”

He said that the union has concerns that Ofsted may not have the capacity to deal with the influx in requests for waivers.

"There has been no satisfactory explanation from the Department as to why this advice has been issued, and why there was no prior consultation with trade unions. If the advice is not going to be withdrawn, we need a proper consultation that results in a far more sensible approach," Richards added.

The National Association for Head Teachers (NAHT) said there has been an increase in calls to their helpline. Russell Hobby, NAHT general secretary said: “We all want children to be safe in school but these regulations are not yet in a workable state.

“We are working with the government to help them make the guidance more effective. At present they are designed for childcare in the home not school settings.

“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.”

However a Department for Education spokesperson stressed to PSE that the guidance on disqualification is not new, it has been on the books since before the current government. The DfE merely highlighted it when publishing the updated guidance.

“These are not new requirements and the law has not changed. Schools and governing bodies should use their judgment when deciding which school staff are covered and where it is deemed necessary take action,” the spokesperson said.

Ofsted has reported an increase in the number of applications for waivers following the publication of updated government guidance in October last year.

“While we process all applications as quickly as possible, we must also investigate each application thoroughly before making a decision to grant a waiver,” a spokesperson said. “This can often 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.

“We will do all we can to minimise delays while ensuring that all applications are dealt with properly.”

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