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Safer Recruitment in Schools

Last updated on 21st April 2023

When parents or carers send children to school every day, they have a very reasonable expectation that the child(ren) will be kept safe whilst in that school’s care; this is known as safeguarding.

Safeguarding and protecting pupils from harm is integrated into all aspects of the life and culture within schools and that includes the recruitment of everyone who works with children in the school environment.

Any organisation that employs people to work with children, irrespective of whether those people are applying for paid employment or volunteer work, is required by law to safeguard children by ensuring that they do not recruit people who are drawn to the position for inappropriate reasons, or driven by unprofessional motives. This recruitment process is known as ‘safer recruitment’.

Local authorities, schools and staff are subject to safeguarding and safer recruitment legislation including the statutory guidance published by the Department for Education (DfE). With thousands of schools to administer and millions of pupils to safeguard, safer recruitment is a key aspect of UK school management.

The Government’s headline facts and figures for 2020/2021 state that the number of pupils in education increased by 1.0% on the previous year 2018/19 to 10,533,613 across the UK.

The total number of schools in the UK is 32,163 and these fall into the following categories:

  • Nursery.
  • Primary.
  • Middle.
  • Secondary.
  • Special.
  • Non-maintained mainstream.
  • Non-maintained special.

The number of full-time equivalent staff in schools in England is 962,638; approximately 50% are teaching staff, 30% are teaching assistants and 20% are other staff (School workforce in England). Of these, 2,128 posts are covered by temporary or supply teachers, covering for either vacant posts or sick absence.

The retention rate for teaching staff in schools is 85% and there are currently approximately 1,098 teaching vacancies in schools in England.

What these figures show is that recruitment in the education sector is a vast ongoing undertaking and it requires the implementation of effective safeguarding and safer recruitment procedures and maintenance of formal recruitment processes, to help deter and prevent the appointment of unsuitable people.

Safeguarding children in a nursery setting

What is safer recruitment?

Safer recruitment means ensuring that the staff and volunteers who are hired to work with children, young people and vulnerable adults have been suitably checked to prevent any harm being done to the people in their care.

It is designed to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults’ welfare at every point where they come into contact with adults working in any role within the school environment.

The overall purpose of safer recruitment is to help identify and deter or reject individuals who are deemed to be at risk of exploiting, harming or abusing children, young people and vulnerable adults.

The Safer Recruitment legislation states that the recruitment and selection of staff should be conducted in a professional, timely and responsive manner, and in compliance with current employment legislation, as well as relevant safeguarding legislation and statutory guidance.

The other key areas of law affecting recruitment and selection include:

In September 2021 the Keeping Children Safe in Education (England) Guidance was amended. The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) have provided a comprehensive summary of the changes to the guidance which included the changes that apply to safer recruitment.

These are:

Part three – Safer recruitment

  • The entirety of Part Three has been restructured to align with the chronological stages of the recruitment process.
  • Information has been added on the Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Act 2021 which extends safeguarding provisions to post-16 education, 16-19 Academies, Special Post-16 institutions and Independent Training Providers.
  • Guidance on verifying a candidate’s identity through their birth certificate has been added.
  • An explanation has been added to the guidance about the circumstances in which separate barred list checks must be carried out.
  • Clarification on section 128 directions has been added.
  • Clarification has been added on using the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA)’s Employer Access service to make prohibition, direction, restriction and Children’s Barred List checks.
  • More information on checks for individuals who have lived or worked outside of the UK has been added, including what these further checks could include.
Safer recruitment involves asking certain questions in an interview

What is safer recruitment in schools?

The safer recruitment of staff in schools is the first step to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in education. Whilst most people applying to work in a school in either a paid or voluntary position are safe and trustworthy, some individuals target organisations which allow them access to children.

Safer recruitment in schools involves having a set of robust procedures and practices for recruitment that will either deter or prevent these dangerous individuals from gaining employment and access to children.

The key aspects of any school safer recruitment process should be designed to:

  • Deter inappropriate applicants from applying at every step of the recruitment process, from the initial advert through to the type of questions asked at interview and references and checks sought.
  • Enable the recruitment panel to identify any potential concerns they have about a candidate and to take steps to explore these concerns thoroughly.

Why is safer recruitment important in schools?

Poor recruitment selection decisions in schools may not only be costly and time consuming, but they may also put children, young people and vulnerable adults at risk. Safer recruitment selection decisions within school recruitment are the most important part of managing staff.

Even one incident of safer recruitment failure can have catastrophic effects; this was highlighted by the case of the Soham child murders.

The focus on safer recruitment intensified following the publication and presentation to Parliament of the Bichard report into the 2002 murders of ten-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, Cambridgeshire.

Ian Huntley, a caretaker at a local secondary school, was convicted of their murders. The Bichard inquiry was established to look at the safeguarding procedures of Humberside Police and Cambridgeshire Constabulary; both forces were in possession of information and intelligence relating to previous concerns about Huntley’s conduct in relation to young women.

The inquiry raised concerns about the safeguarding and vetting procedures in place at that time, which had allowed Huntley to work in a school despite this intelligence. Recommendation 21 of the Bichard report stated that “All posts, including those in schools, that involve working with children and vulnerable adults should be subject to the enhanced disclosure regime.” The Government began implementing the recommendations of the report in 2004.

Sexually motivated, inappropriate conduct is the reason for a third of teaching bans, the BBC has found, with “inappropriate conduct” making up more than half of all bans following misconduct hearings.

Although it is not clear whether safer recruitment would have prevented these individuals from working in schools, the safer recruitment process has most probably prevented this figure from being even higher.

The recruitment and selection process in schools

Safer recruitment is an essential part of safeguarding children, young people and adults at risk. Adopting safer recruitment practices prioritises the safety and welfare of everyone in the organisation and enables the identification of unsuitable individuals who may apply for employment or volunteering.

This process applies to anyone over the age of 16 years; however, any volunteers and helpers under the age of 16 years, such as those on ‘work experience’, should also be vetted prior to working with children as there is no age limit for unsuitable individuals.

Throughout a safer recruitment process, there is a heavy emphasis on the role that the recruitment process itself plays in keeping children and young people safe.

It starts with the process of planning the recruitment exercise and ensuring that the job advertisement makes clear the organisation’s commitment to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.

The recruitment process should include these stages:

  • Deter – To stop unsuitable people from applying for a position. Sending out clear messages in job advertisements that your organisation has strict safer recruitment policies and practices in place to protect vulnerable children and young people.
  • Identify and reject – Everyone in the recruitment process needs to be aware that unsuitable people lie in applications and at interview to get close to children. Any details they give in the application itself, qualifications they claim to possess, details given during interview, references and identity documents (ID) offered, must be checked, cross-referenced and applicants fully screened.
  • Prevent and reject – Once appointed, follow up with a rigorous induction and probation period to check the appropriate person has been appointed.

All staff involved in the recruitment process should feel confident that they could spot warning signs and feel empowered to report any concerns they may have, so it is crucially important that they have participated in safer recruitment training before beginning a recruitment exercise.

Staff writing a job advert to ensure safer recruitment

How to recruit safely in schools

As previously stated, safer recruitment is essential to ensure that unsuitable persons do not gain access to work, either on a paid or voluntary basis, with children in schools.

Those responsible for recruitment need to be able to demonstrate their understanding of safer recruitment practices and show that these practices are followed when employing all staff.

The safer recruitment process needs to consider safeguarding at every stage of the process:

  • Planning.
  • Advertising.
  • Selection for interview.
  • Interview.
  • Appointment.

Planning – Consider:

  • The reason for post, for example, new post, retirement, cover for absent staff member, etc.
  • The type of appointment required, for example, temporary, fixed-term, term-time only, full time, part time, casual worker, volunteer, etc.
  • Is the job description up to date, does it clearly state the role requirements/expectations, for example, key competencies, personal attributes, education, qualifications, training and experience split into essential and desirable, and the safeguarding responsibilities required for the role?
  • Define the roles and responsibilities in the recruitment exercise, and appoint a selection panel. It is good practice that selection panels should have a minimum of two members and no more than four. The selection panel has the responsibility for appointing the person who best matches the employee specification and meets the requirements of the role, and also ensure that all relevant employment legislation and school policies are followed. Members of the selection panel should have participated in safer recruitment training to ensure they are complying with the process. There is a statutory requirement for at least one panel member to have had safer recruitment training.
  • Decide on the application procedure. Will you produce an application pack for applicants? Will you accept CVs or application forms? Using an application form will ask for all the information you need and will provide a common set of information on all applicants to support an equitable shortlisting and selection process, whereas a CV will only provide the information an applicant wishes to present. Will you use a recruitment consultancy and, if so, do they comply with safer recruitment procedures?
  • Set timescales. This is important to ensure that all stages in the safer recruitment process can take place. Panic recruitment can lead to appointments being taken up before all the relevant vetting procedures have been completed; allow enough time between an offer of employment and a start date to receive all references and security checks.

Advertising – Consider:

  • Writing a job advert – The job advert is the first image potential applicants will see of the school. It is critical to get it right and make sure it promotes a positive impression including the school’s commitment to equality and safeguarding. It needs to be concise and include the essential requirements people need to do the job, as well as notification that the successful applicant will be required to provide a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) disclosure at the appropriate level for the post, so that you only get suitable applicants applying. Adverts must be non-discriminatory. Descriptions of jobs must reflect accurately the data set out in the job description and the person specification.
  • The benefits of open advertising are that this will attract a wider pool of applicants and reduce the risk of contravening equalities legislation, so consider advertising vacancies in more than one medium.
  • Applicants should be made aware of the contact point for enquiries by email or telephone and all application forms sent out must show the closing date, time and to whom the form should be returned.

Selection for interview – Consider:

  • All members of the selection panel should be equally involved and contribute to the shortlisting process.
  • All applications should be considered by the recruiters and assessed against set criteria. Check all applications carefully for:
    – Incomplete or missing information.
    – Unexplained gaps in employment.
    – Repeated or frequent job changes.
    – Anomalies or discrepancies in the information provided.
  • The use of a matrix system for shortlisting will assist recruiters to be systematic when shortlisting for vacant posts. The matrix is based on the person specification. Using the matrix enables you to see a full picture of all the applicants and is more effective than making notes. It will also help if giving feedback and to defend your recruitment decisions if challenged.
  • Identify applicants that meet the criteria to invite for interview and those that should be rejected. When drawing up a shortlist for interview, recruiters should assess applicants solely against the person specification criteria. Only shortlist candidates who fully meet the requirements of the role and who, from the application form at least, appear to be suitable to appoint.
  • When you invite shortlisted candidates to interview, remind them to bring all relevant documents to interview, such as their last DBS certificate if they have one, qualification certificates, proof of identity and right to work in the UK. You could send them a pre-interview checklist to help them know what documents to bring.
  • Recruiters must comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 for job applications, therefore appropriate security measures should be taken to prevent unauthorised or unlawful processing, disclosure, destruction, loss or alteration of information. Recruitment records, whether kept in hard copy or electronic format, should be retained for no longer than 6 months after the recruitment exercise, where possible. The statutory period during which an unsuccessful applicant may bring a discrimination claim arising from the recruitment process is 3 months, but it is possible for this period to be extended by a tribunal in exceptional circumstances.

Interview – Consider:

  • Prepare the questions that you intend to ask – these should be the same for all interviewees – and agree a scoring system to rate candidates’ responses so that fair scoring is in place.
  • Plan to hold face-to-face interviews wherever possible that explore candidates’ suitability to work with children as well as their suitability for the post.
  • The more information you get about an applicant, the more reliable your selection decision is likely to be. For this reason, you should consider other assessments as well as an interview.
  • To support robust safer recruitment practices, you need to ask open questions which promote a detailed response based on prior experience. The four key areas to consider are:
    – Motivation to work with children and young people.
    – Ability to form and maintain appropriate relationships and professional boundaries with children and young people.
    – Emotional resilience working with challenging behaviours.
    – Attitudes towards the use of authority and maintaining discipline.
  • The interview must explore issues relating to the safeguarding of children, for example:
    – At least one safeguarding question must be asked. This could be about your safeguarding policy or the candidate’s previous professional experience of safeguarding.
    – Investigate any apparent sizeable gaps in employment to check for credible reasons for these.
    – Explore concerns or discrepancies arising from the information provided by the candidate or referee.
    – Ask the candidate if they wish to declare anything considering the need for enhanced criminal record checks and barred list checks to be undertaken.
  • Use follow-up questions to check that the candidate has done what they say they have done. Continue to probe until you feel that the response is sufficient to inform your decision. Remember past performance is the best predictor of future performance.
  • Do not automatically believe what people say without examining the evidence of what they have done.
  • Score each candidate against an agreed scoring system to decide on the best candidate for the job.

Appointment – Consider:

  • Any offer of appointment made to a successful candidate, including one who has lived or worked abroad, must be conditional on satisfactory completion of the necessary pre-employment checks. Even verbal offers are legally binding so make sure you tell the candidate that the offer is conditional on satisfactory completion of all pre-employment checks including references, health and criminal record checking.
  • No-one should start work before all pre-employment checks are complete and must not start until at least their identity and right to work in the UK has been verified.
  • A candidate can start prior to the receipt of a DBS check; however, they should not be left unsupervised, and a risk assessment must be carried out to consider the risks and any measures that can be put in place to mitigate those risks.

Induction and probation – Consider:

  • Newly appointed staff must not start to work with children or young people until all appropriate checks and vetting procedures have been satisfactorily completed.
  • Once an appointment has been made and the new staff member has started, a comprehensive induction should take place including training on the school’s safeguarding policy and procedures.
  • Newly appointed staff should be provided with information about safer working practice and clarification of the standards of behaviour and conduct expected within the school and for the specific role.
  • They should be made aware of the whistleblowing and disciplinary and/or capability procedures that will be applied, where necessary.
  • During the probation period, new staff members should be monitored to ensure that they are complying with the school’s safeguarding and safe working practices.
  • Ongoing supervision of all staff which includes safeguarding and child protection as a standing item should be maintained within schools and those who work with children.
New staff should be monitored

The importance of checks when recruiting in schools

It is a statutory requirement that schools use DBS checks as part of their recruitment process. Most schools choose to undertake other pre-employment checks on all new staff members as part of their commitment to safer recruitment, as this is best practice.

Recruiting schools should be mindful that irrespective of how plausible a prospective employee may seem, undesirable individuals often appear to be very credible, which is why it is crucial to carry out pre-employment checks. These checks include:

An identity check – A claimed identity is a combination of information, often a name, date of birth and address, that represents the attributes of whoever a person is claiming to be.

Some types of evidence are ‘stronger’ than others, which means they will be harder to forge or counterfeit.

Usually, the type of document acceptable for ID verification includes:

  • Biometric passports that meet the ICAO specifications for e-passports, such as a UK passport.
  • Identity cards from an EU or EEA country that follow the Council Regulation (EC) No 2252/2004 standards and contain biometric information.
  • UK biometric residence permits.

The above form(s) of ID should also be checked to ensure that it:

  • Is valid – This means you can find records that show the evidence has been issued.
  • Has not expired.
  • Has not been cancelled or reported as lost or stolen.

In addition to forms of ID, documents to prove proof of residence such as a utility bill or bank statement in the person’s name should also be checked.

Employment references – These provide important information to school recruiters, assisting them in determining whether a job applicant is suitable. It is custom and practice in education to provide references for employees, and refusal to give a reference could give rise to several concerns but may also inaccurately suggest that an employee is unsuitable. In these cases, further investigation may be required to avoid an inaccurate assessment.

Whilst there is no specific legal requirement to seek references, in practice it is necessary for schools to do so to ensure safer recruitment compliance. Schools may request references via a pro-forma or questionnaire style request, although the use of such forms is not considered a standalone compliance requirement.

From time to time, it may be necessary to contact the referee to provide further clarification following the provision of a written reference. Where this is done verbally, for evidential purposes, detailed notes of the conversation and who was spoken to should be taken, dated and signed.

Two references should always be obtained, one at least from the candidate’s current employer. Where this is not possible because the candidate is out of work, verification of the most recent period of employment and the reasons for leaving should be sought.

If the candidate has no previous employment history, schools may request character references which may include references from the candidate’s school or university.

References should always be requested directly from the referee and preferably from a senior person with appropriate authority, not just a colleague of the candidate. There may be certain circumstances in which a candidate finds it more difficult to obtain two separate references.

This may be particularly the case in respect of cleaning or other support staff. In such cases, schools should take reasonable steps to obtain at least two references. Where only one reference is accepted, a note should be placed on the Single Central Record to say that the school sought two references and to explain why only one was forthcoming and the rationale for accepting this.

A Barred List check and an Enhanced DBS check/certificate – The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) helps employers make safer recruitment decisions by processing and issuing DBS checks for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

DBS also maintains the Adults’ and Children’s Barred Lists, and makes considered decisions as to whether an individual should be included on one or both of these lists and barred from engaging in regulated activity.

The four levels of DBS check are:

  • Basic DBS check.
  • Standard DBS check.
  • Enhanced DBS check.
  • Enhanced with Barred List(s) DBS check.

An Enhanced with Barred Lists DBS check is required for people working with children. An Enhanced with Barred Lists certificate will contain the same information as an Enhanced DBS certificate, but will also include a check of one or both barred lists.

The Adult Barred List is checked for people working with adults in certain circumstances such as those in receipt of healthcare or personal care. The Children Barred List is a confidential register of both men and women who have been barred against working with children by the Department for Education (DfE).

It is maintained by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and contains the names, aliases, dates of birth and National Insurance numbers of all those people who are forbidden to work with children in schools, social work and voluntary settings. Details of relevant offences on the barred list can be seen here.

A prohibition from teaching check – The prohibition check confirms whether an applicant is prohibited from working within educational establishments. Local authorities, schools and further education institutions must check if a person has been prohibited before confirming the person’s appointment.

Prohibition checks are a requirement for all teaching staff; professions such as teachers, tutors and teaching assistants are eligible for this search.

If an individual is prohibited, their details will appear on the prohibited list and the applicant is not allowed to undertake unsupervised teaching work in schools.

The prohibition check is not a full criminal record check, neither does it check the Children’s Barred List, it just checks whether or not an applicant is prohibited from working within educational establishments.

A check of professional qualifications – Teacher Services is a free service to check the record of a teacher you employ or are considering employing including any trainee, newly qualified, or fully qualified teacher.

You will be able to:

  • View a teacher’s personal details.
  • View initial teacher training qualifications.
  • Confirm they have been awarded QTS.
  • Check whether they have successfully completed their teacher induction period.
  • View any additional qualifications, including relevant mandatory qualifications and national professional qualifications.
Teacher must be able to provide personal details

You can also use Teacher Services to find out if the individual has any current prohibitions, restrictions or sanctions.

Further checks on people living or working outside the UK (includes EEA check) and/or a check to establish the person’s right to work in the UK – An EU passport or national identity card alone is no longer valid proof of someone’s right to work in the UK.

Freedom of movement between the UK and EU has ended and the UK has introduced a points-based immigration system. You need to have a sponsor licence to hire most workers from outside the UK. However, Irish citizens can continue to use their passport or passport card to prove their right to work.

Candidates from overseas must undergo the same checks as all other staff in schools, including obtaining an Enhanced DBS certificate with barred list information. This still applies even if the candidate has never been to the UK. The Home Office provides guidance on criminal records checks for overseas applicants.

A section 128 direction check – If applicable for the role, section 128 checks can be carried out through the Teaching Regulation Agency and show whether a person is banned from being involved in the management and governance of schools. If someone has been issued with a section 128 direction, they can’t serve on your board, and in academies it also means they can’t be on the senior management team.

People with a section 128 direction can’t:

  • Hold a management position in an academy, free school or independent school as an employee.
  • Be an academy or free school trustee or member.
  • Be a governor on any governing body in an academy, free school or independent school that retains or has been delegated any management responsibilities.
  • Be a governor or member of the proprietor body of an independent school.
  • Be a governor of a maintained school.

Agency workers – Agency workers, for example but not limited to, supply teachers, are not employees of the school. The primary responsibility for carrying out identity checks, Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks where required, and any other security checking, rests with the agency concerned.

However, the school should request evidence from the agency that the necessary checks have been completed and verified. Schools should also check that the person who turns up to work is the same person on whom the checks were done.

It has been a requirement since 2007 that all schools must maintain a single central record (SCR) of recruitment and vetting checks. The SCR is the central record of the safeguarding checks that have been carried out on all staff and other relevant people. All staff must be added to the SCR, even if they only work at your school for a day.

SCR must record information for:

  • All staff who work at the school, including teacher trainees on salaried routes and agency and third-party supply staff, even if they only work for one day.
  • For independent schools, academies and free schools, all members of the proprietor body – that is the members and trustees of the trust in academies and free schools.

Where applicable, schools must record:

  • Identity checks.
  • References.
  • Barred list checks.
  • Enhanced DBS checks.
  • Checks of professional qualifications, for example qualified teacher status.
  • Prohibition from teaching checks (for those carrying out teaching work).
  • Section 128 checks for those in management positions in an independent school or academy. Maintained school governors should also have this check, as a section 128 direction will disqualify them from being a governor.
  • Further checks on people who’ve lived or worked outside the UK. These could include criminal record checks and obtaining a letter of professional standing from the professional regulating authority in the country where the applicant has worked, confirming it has not imposed sanctions or restrictions on the individual, or is aware of any reason why they might be unsuitable.
  • Checks to establish individuals’ right to work in the UK.

In respect of these checks, the SCR must record:

  • Whether each check has been carried out, or a certificate obtained.
  • The date on which each check was carried out, or the certificate obtained.

It is not mandatory to include in the SCR any checks carried out on volunteers or to record safeguarding and safer recruitment training dates; however, for best practice purposes it is recommended that these are included. Ofsted inspectors will ask to see your school’s SCR early on in an inspection.

In conclusion

It is not possible to guarantee ‘safe recruitment’ in any school; however, by implementing the principles of safer recruitment you can make it much more difficult for unsuitable, dangerous people to gain access to children, young people or families.

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Evie Lee

Evie Lee

Evie has worked at CPD Online College since August 2021. She is currently doing an apprenticeship in Level 3 Business Administration. Evie's main roles are to upload blog articles and courses to the website. Outside of work, Evie loves horse riding and spending time with her family.

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