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Keeping children safe in education: (some) clarity over extent of on-line checks

In June the government published new guidance on keeping children safe in education. It recommended that schools and colleges conduct online searches of shortlisted candidates to check there weren't any 'red flags' that might indicate their unsuitability to teach children/young adults.

Some commentators suggested that schools and colleges had to search a candidate's social media history and would have to put aside additional resource to do this. We took a different view and recommended that you only needed to undertake on-line searches via a search engine to see if anything concerning cropped up. 

Our approach has been endorsed by a senior member of the Teacher Regulation and School Safeguarding and Safety Team during a meeting, organised by the Association of Colleges, to discuss the confusion around this issue. They made the following points:

  • The DfE only intended the sector to do a simple on-line search to see if anything comes up in the public domain. They suggesting that limiting your search to the first 3/5 pages is sufficient.  
  • It's down to you to decide what types of things are likely to make a candidate unsuitable. For example, they suggested that a drink driving conviction may not have an impact on a maths teacher, but might for a sports teacher who needs to drive a mini-bus to get students to tournaments and games etc.
  • Ofsted should not examine this aspect of your recruitment process.

The college sector raised a number of concerns about whether these checks are necessary given the reach of the DBS process. They also suggested that because the process is subjective, different colleges could reach different hiring decisions based on the same evidence. They also worried that checking candidates could result in indirect discrimination against certain groups, such as young black men who are more likely to be stopped and searched than white men and are therefore more likely to appear in searches. 

They also asked for guidance about what to do with the information they find and, specifically, the steps they needed to take to check the facts/ source of the information beyond asking the candidate about it.

What happens now?

KCSIE guidance will be reviewed and changes are usually made every two years. The official indicated that it might be possible to do something ahead of this timetable and they agreed to reflect on the comments made.  

Need help?

Our employment law experts, Jenny Arrowsmith (schools) and Helen Dyke (colleges) are here to answer any additional questions you have. They are supported by specialist data-protection lawyer Joanne Bone and public law expert Yogi Amin

We also support schools and colleges with our fixed-fee annual retainer, or flexible discounted bank of hours service. If you'd like to know more about this, please contact Jenny Arrowsmith