All employers and employees working in an education setting with children and young people have a responsibility to keep these vulnerable groups of people safe. Part of this important responsibility is in ensuring safe recruitment processes are followed, which ensure that only suitable people are hired.
Whether in a school or other educational environment, relating to volunteers or full-time employees, safer recruitment is both mandated and important. In this article, we summarise the safer recruitment guidelines and connected legislation, explain why it’s important and outline the process for safer recruitment in education when hiring candidates to work with children and young people.
Normal recruitment processes are designed to test a candidate's ability to perform a job, including their previous experience, skills, and ability to fit within the team. For many job openings, this is entirely sufficient, but when it comes to working with vulnerable people like children and young adults, these processes don’t do enough to ensure that the candidate is suitable.
Safer recruitment is a set of recruitment practices that have been designed to assess the suitability of adults for jobs that involve working with children. They look at a person’s background, previous jobs, and criminal convictions and also ask for character references that help determine whether other people that know a candidate would trust them to work with children.
Each school or organisation that works with children must have its own safer recruitment policy and set of procedures that ensure any job candidates are appropriately and thoroughly vetted. Not only does it provide an approved list of steps to follow for recruitment, but it also acts as a commitment to and record of doing everything you can to keep the children in your care safe.
The government believes that it is too great a risk to vulnerable individuals for suitability to be self-reported, as it is likely that those wanting to harm children would lie about their suitability for the role in order to try and get the job. Instead, a candidate’s suitability for working with children must be determined by an independent authority.
Safer recruitment procedures are important because they massively reduce the chances of a child being abused by an adult at school by preventing these dangerous adults from entering educational establishments in the first place. Instead of having to implement measures to keep children safe from potentially harmful staff, it removes this risk altogether by ensuring that everyone working in a school is safe to be around children.
By having a safer recruitment process that is externally determined, students are kept safe from potentially predatory or harmful adults. Educational establishments also remain safe places for children and young people to learn and socialise, which is important as it helps them to feel safe and secure knowing that steps have been taken to assess the adults that work there.
The safer recruitment process isn’t 100% effective, but it’s the best way of stopping potentially dangerous adults from even coming into contact with vulnerable young people.
In contrast with a typical hiring process, safer recruiting requires a variety of additional steps and amendments to usual practices. These will be detailed fully during any safer recruitment training that you attend, but we’ll go into the primary steps of the process that you should be aware of below, in line with guidance from the NSPCC and the UK’s Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022 guidance.
The job description created when the position is opened must always make specific reference to the fact that it involves working with children and young people in an educational setting, and the responsibilities of safeguarding that this involves. Not only is this important in helping to advertise the role, but it will also help to determine what particular skills or experience the appropriate candidate needs.
After agreeing on a suitable job description, the advertisement for the available role should also include the fact that there must be a suitability to work with children and young people as part of it. This ensures that any applicants are aware of how much contact they will have with children and what they will be expected to do to protect them.
A job application form for a role with a safeguarding responsibility should gather all the relevant details about a candidate’s identity, such as personal details, employment history, qualifications and reference details. Many forms also ask for a personal statement from the candidate that should explain why they think they are suitable for the role.
As part of the process, a job application form should give the candidate details about a school or organisation’s safer recruitment policy. This lets the applicant know what checks will be done during the recruitment process and what information they need to provide, along with why this information is necessary for the safeguarding of children and young people.
When candidates have been shortlisted after the initial application process, they should be asked to complete a self-disclosure form to share information about their criminal record or any information that might make them unsuitable to work with children. This allows candidates to share relevant information before any background checks are completed, the details of which will depend on the kind of role they’re applying for.
The details of what is in this self-declaration will only be read by a potential employer if a candidate is interviewed for the role, and should not be used to decide which candidates should be shortlisted for an interview.
It’s advised that candidate references are checked before an interview takes place, as this means that the references can be discussed with the candidate in person. Most schools and organisations that work with children have a standard reference form that includes specific questions about the candidate’s suitability to work with children and young people.
At least two references should be provided for each candidate, ideally giving an idea of their professional and personal suitability. This allows the interviewers to confirm details about the candidate’s employment history and get a more well-rounded picture of who they are.
Comprehensive information about a candidate’s identity and general details must be sought throughout the interview process. It’s an opportunity to talk through skills and experience that are relevant to the role, but job interviews should also include safer recruitment practices.
The interview should similarly contain specific questions about the candidate’s suitability to work with children and young people. Information from a candidate’s self-declaration form and their references should be discussed in this section of the recruitment process.
A job offer for a role with a safeguarding responsibility should always be made with the caveat that it is subject to appropriate background checks. A safer recruitment process ensures that the candidate goes through the relevant DBS check, and potentially further checks if, for example, they are a foreign national.
Background checks in recruitment for schools and work with children focus on an enhanced DBS check. They will also confirm a candidate’s identity, check their mental and physical fitness for the role, and ensure that they have a right to work in the country.
A Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check or application is designed to check a candidate’s criminal record. It can be used for a variety of purposes, but is generally used when checking a candidate’s suitability to work with children.
DBS checks used to be known as CRB checks or CRB applications until the Disclosure and Barring Service was established in 2012. Employers can request an application, have the candidate complete it, and then the DBS will return their certificate to the candidate. Employers must then request to see the DBS certificate to ensure that a candidate has been cleared for working with children.
Several pieces of legislation underpin the process of safer recruitment in education. Here are details of two of the most important.
The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 is the main body of legislation behind the safer recruitment initiatives and sets out the legal framework for the Independent Safeguarding Authority. This government body was set up to oversee the Vetting and Barring Scheme, which ensured that employers were making safe decisions when it came to recruiting people to work with vulnerable groups.
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 is a wide-ranging piece of legislation that includes a section (Part 5) that deals with safeguarding. It made several amendments to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, but most importantly, began the process which saw the Independent Safeguarding Scheme merge with the Criminal Records Bureau into the Disclosure and Barring Service.
You can read more about both acts and safer recruitment policy on the Gov.uk website, and both are covered within our Safer Recruitment course.
According to guidance in Keeping Children Safe in Education: Statutory Guidance for Schools and Colleges, the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) in a school should update their safeguarding training at least once every two years. This includes safer recruitment training, which may also be undertaken by other members of staff that are directly involved with the recruitment process.
The majority of safer requirement qualifications from training courses don’t have an expiration date. However, as with general safeguarding training, you are recommended to update this every 1-2 years to stay informed about new legislation and official guidance and procedures.
The safer recruitment process should be used whenever a role involves someone having contact with or being responsible for looking after children or vulnerable adults. It doesn’t matter whether this is a paid role or just a volunteer position, or if the person is likely only to come into contact with children very occasionally. If there’s any kind of interaction with young people, safer recruitment procedures must be used to ensure that hiring a candidate won’t create a safeguarding risk.
Safer recruitment training should be repeated every 2-3 years, although there is no official guidance as to when the knowledge gained in a training course needs to be refreshed. Repeating training for safer recruitment practices helps you to stay informed about the latest guidance and ensures that you don’t forget any important parts of the procedures, keeping the recruitment process safe and effective.
The full extent of safer recruitment procedures is expansive, detailed, and in some cases complex. In order to be fully briefed, the best thing to do is to undertake a course that covers all of the relevant legal requirements and gives guidance on how best to outline a safer recruitment policy for your organisation.
If you’re looking for safeguarding and safer recruitment training, we offer an online ‘Safer Recruitment’ course that is CPD certified and suitable for anyone working in a role with a safeguarding responsibility or recruitment responsibility.