I think we’d all agree we need to protect children & young people from sexual predators, potential abuse or harm but how far do we go in ensuring this protection? Is any measure acceptable or do we risk breaching the rights of others in our quest for child protection? And does that quest necessarily achieve the desired purpose?

These questions are being faced by a number of schools after around 300 school staff have recently been suspended following guidelines issued by the Department of Education that disqualify people from working with children if they share a house with anyone who has been convicted or cautioned for certain violent and sexual offences.

This is referred to as Disqualification by Association and is to protect against an individual working with children who may be under the influence of another person who poses a risk to children. The individual must declare this association to their employer who must inform Ofsted & then an application can be made to Ofsted for a waiver to the disqualification in some circumstances.

This all sounds quite reasonable & sensible on the face of it, and we imagine that going forward as new employment offers are made, this kind of process will become as common place as the DBS and safeguarding checks are today.

The difficulty is for those people currently employed who suddenly find themselves subject to these new rules &the schools who have taken action by suspending them – presumably while they apply for the waivers. Does or will this lead to claims of breaches in confidentiality or loss of pay? Schools are apparently urged to use their own judgement in applying these guidelines, which are unclear and open to much interpretation, but do head teachers have the skills and knowledge to make that judgement effectively?

We wonder will there be concerns raised along the lines of “no smoke without fire”? Will some of these employees find it difficult to return to work amongst colleagues or parents who, without all the facts, may not trust them or feel concerned about the potential for harm to children. Will there be legal repercussions? And from a basic human decency perspective was there not a better way of handling this to allow these employees to retain their privacy & dignity?

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