Child protection rules ‘lead to staff suspensions’

Hundreds of teaching and support staff have been suspended following the introduction of new government rules disqualifying certain people from working with children.

In October 2014, the Department for Education (DfE) published guidance entitled Keeping children safe in education: childcare disqualification requirements – supplementary advice.

It said that the Childcare Act 2006 and the Childcare (Disqualification) Regulations 2009 placed specific requirements on schools around the disqualification of staff from working with children under the age of eight in certain circumstances. These include being cautioned for or convicted of certain violent and sexual criminal offences against children and adults or living in the same household where another person who is disqualified lives or works, known as disqualification by association.

The guidance confirms that as well as those involved in registered childcare provision outside school, the disqualification rules apply to:

  • staff who work in early years provision, including teachers and support staff working in school nursery and reception classes
  • staff working in later years provision for children under the age of eight, including before school settings, such as breakfast clubs
  • staff directly involved in managing such services.

Affected staff can apply for a waiver from Ofsted – which may be awarded on a full or partial basis – but cannot work while waiting for this to be granted.

The concept of disqualification by association has been widely reported in the media following the conviction of a former deputy headteacher in December 2014 of sexual offences against a pupil. It was reported this month that his wife, an acting headteacher at another school, who is standing by him, is now on what was described in the media as “enforced leave” from her position while the local authority considers whether she should be permitted to continue to work with children.

The BBC reported on 20 January that the Unison union said around 300 school staff living with someone with a conviction for relevant crime faced disqualification and was calling on the government to clarify the 2014 guidance.

The BBC reported that the government had said schools must “use their judgement” in applying the rules.

Unison’s head of education Jon Richards told BBC Radio 5 live: “The way that this advice has been rolled out means schools are misapplying it and suspending staff for issues unrelated to the regulations. We are also concerned that Ofsted may not have the capacity to deal with all these cases quickly which will be disruptive for both staff and pupils.”

Schools seeking clarification on their obligations under the DfE guidance may wish to seek employment law advice, to avoid unnecessarily suspending staff. Palmers’ employment law team can assist school leaders in staying compliant with their legal responsibilities while avoiding any unnecessary suspensions. For more information, please visit our website or contact Lara Murray, Karl Barnes or Charlotte Woolven-Brown.