That’s what they think in England, as you shall see. Our guest blogger today is Sarah Ebner. She edits School Gate ( www.timesonline.co.uk/schoolgate ), a blog about all aspects of education for the London Times. She’s always interested to hear from other parents. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Sarah Ebner
When I was gently persuaded to become co-chair of my son’s pre-school, I didn’t expect a police check. The position wouldn’t mean working with the 3- and 4-year-olds, but liaising with the head teacher, treasurer and other staff about issues such as budgets and salaries.
It sounded so easy, but became surprisingly complicated early on due to the vast number of forms apologetically passed on to me by the head teacher. She said that even though I wasn’t ever going to be alone in the nursery with the children (or generally there at all), I still had to pass an “enhanced disclosure” check by the police. OFSTED — England’s Office for Standards in Education — saw my agreement to be co-chair as meaning that I was “to be working with children.” Except, of course, that I wasn’t.
When I saw that the form was the size of a small book, I was almost put off the whole thing. But duty called, and I filled it all in, even ringing a couple of people up to ask them for references (to say what – that they knew me and I wasn’t a pedophile?). I heard nothing for a while, but eventually I was told that OFSTED had “established my suitability” to “provide childcare.” Then I received a quite scary looking certificate that stated I had no police record.
My experience has, sadly become quite common in the UK. Parents are being told not to volunteer at schools unless they have a CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) certificate, and this is the same for other voluntary groups working with children. The historic reasons for this are understandable – the rule change was introduced after the dreadful murder of two schoolgirls in 2002 – but it has since been expanded. There is now a sense that all adults are guilty until proven innocent with one of these pieces of paper. Is that what we really want in our society?
Sociologist Frank Furedi recently co-authored a study, “Licensed to Hug,” (http://www.frankfuredi.com/index.php/site/article/221/) which argues, “child protection policies in Britain are poisoning the relationship between the generations.” Furedi, who is known for his strong views on how we over-protect our children these days, says it is putting people off volunteering, and making all adults suspicious of each other.
In the past few weeks, his view has been bolstered by the case of Jayne Jones, mother of 14-year-old Alex, from Wales. Alex has cerebral palsy and epilepsy and Jayne has always accompanied him to school in a taxi. Now Alex has been told that he has to travel alone until his mother passes a CRB check.
If we could just learn to trust each other again it might make a better society for our children and for ourselves. — Sarah