As a supplementary to today's Indy story about authors visiting schools, these new rules will also apply to politicians, I'm told. From September any MP visiting a school in his or her constituency will need a CRB check. No problem with that, you might think, but to get a check carried out you need a sponsoring organisation, which would usually be your employer. I've just bumped into a Labour MP who tells me that the House of Commons authorities are refusing to act as sponsor. This resurrects the whole problem of who exactly is your employer as an MP? The House of Commons authorities? The people who voted for you? The Prime Minister/ leader of your party?
Try renting a flat as an MP and being asked for an employer's reference, which was the situation I was in when I was first elected. I can't remember how I resolved that condundrum in the end. I certainly didn't manage to persuade Tony Blair to write one!
I've already had a CRB check, which was required when I went out to India with two fifteen year olds from a Bristol school. The trip and the CRB check was arranged by WorldVision as part of the Global Campaign for Education. Not sure if it's still in force though, as it was spring 2008. The MP tells me he's on the case, but we need to get it sorted before September, which is always the best time for MPs to visit schools as they're back and we're back at work but not in Parliament. (This will of course be disputed by those who are convinced we're all about to disappear on a 12 week cruise around the Caribbean.)
OK - yet another postscript. I now have it on very good authority that MPs will not be required to have CRB or ISA clearance before visiting schools. Nor will authors unless they are regular visitors. This statement is now on the DCSF website:
16 July 2009
In response to various stories about authors having to be vetted before being allowed to go into schools to read to children, the DCSF has issued the following statement: “These checks have been misunderstood. Authors, MPs or anyone else will not have to register with the Vetting and Barring Scheme if they work with children once or infrequently. People working in schools will only be required to register if they work with children on a regular basis. “These rules do not apply to visitors to a school, but only to people working in schools on a regular basis. The rules apply even if the person working is supervised by a teacher at all times, as they are being placed in a unique position of trust where they can easily become deeply liked and trusted by pupils. We therefore need to be sure that this trust is well placed, in case pupils bump into them out of school where a teacher is not present. “While we fully accept that the vast majority of workers or volunteers would never abuse their position of trust, parents would not want adults working regularly with young children, even on a voluntary basis, without any sort of background check at all. That would be irresponsible. This applies as much to famous authors as it does to cleaners, admin staff or fire-fighters giving safety talks. We are very grateful to authors who give up their time to read to children, young people really benefit from it.”
So, it seems that MPs won't need checks on the basis that there is no danger of them becoming 'deeply liked and trusted' by the pupils!