Thursday, 5 May 2011

Ofsted Briefing on proposed changes to the vetting and barring scheme set out in the Protection of Freedoms Bill

Briefing on proposed changes to the vetting and barring scheme is set out in the Protection of Freedoms Bill

As part of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has unveiled a new scaled back employment vetting scheme and a fundamental reform of criminal records bureau (CRB) checks as summarised below. The Bill proposes:

 to maintain a barring function
 to abolish registration and monitoring requirements
 to redefine the requirements of 'regulated activities'
 to abolish 'controlled activities'.

Among other specific moves that will affect the work of Ofsted are proposals to support

Portability of CRB checks by introducing a ‘live’ certificate that can be kept up to date, penalties for employers requesting checks when they are not entitled to them, the abolition of the ‘controlled activity’ category and a narrowing of the scope of ‘regulated’ activity.


The vetting and barring scheme (VBS) had been created to help safeguard children and vulnerable adults, following the Bichard Inquiry into the events at Soham in 2002, and was designed to check the records of those who wanted to work with vulnerable groups. It was introduced as part of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act (SVGA) in 2006, and was intended to be implemented in phases, beginning with the requirement for all those in regular contact with children and appointed after 2002 to be subject to CRB checks.

In recent years, there has been a growing anxiety about perceived overly bureaucratic measures surrounding CRB checks, with increasing numbers of people suggesting that, while well intentioned, the vetting and barring scheme was a disproportionate response to the risk posed by a small minority who wished to commit harm to vulnerable people. In June 2010, ministers announced that the planned implementation of the VBS was to be halted, pending a thorough review. This move halted the planned introduction of the requirement for all those working regularly with children and vulnerable adults to register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority beginning in July 2010.

Protection of Freedoms Bill

The Protection of Freedoms Bill introduces new primary legislation to amend the SVGA to scale back the scheme, in particular, through the abolition of the registration and monitoring requirements and the re-definition of the range of posts to which barring arrangements apply. However, the safeguarding regulations introduced in October 2009 continue to apply.

These include:

 a person who is barred from working with children or vulnerable adults will be breaking the law if they work or volunteer, or try to work or volunteer with those groups

 an organisation which knowingly employs someone who is barred to work with those groups will also be breaking the law

 if your organisation works with children or vulnerable adults and you dismiss a member of staff or a volunteer because they have harmed a child or vulnerable adult, or you would have done so if they had not left, you must tell the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA).

The government is also seeking economies by proposing the merger of the ISA and the CRB. The CRB is responsible for the disclosure of criminal records and the ISA for the barring function. The ISA currently holds the lists of those barred from working with children and vulnerable adults, and was intended to maintain them in the future. Both of these functions will be retained when the changes set out in this review are implemented, but economies are to be made by merging the two bodies. On commencement of the relevant parts of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, therefore, the Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safeguarding Authority will merge. In essence, this will combine the criminal records disclosure responsibilities of the CRB, with an independent barring function which is currently the responsibility of the ISA. The ISA will continue to carry out its work as an independent decision making body as well as continuing to maintain the barred lists. They will also continue to accept referrals.

The Bill is expected to take until the autumn to progress through its various parliamentary stages, and new primary legislation is not expected before 2012. Much of the impact of this Bill has yet to be assessed, and there will be considerable discussion during its progress. There is still much that is unknown about how the changes will affect our work, although it is likely to impact strongly on the regulatory context where Ofsted itself is responsible for checking the suitability of staff in childcare and early years settings. Ofsted has responded to the consultations surrounding this Bill and will continue to work closely with the Department for Education, CRB and ISA to develop our regulatory and inspection functions to ensure they continue to support the legislative position while putting the well-being of children first. We are already revising our inspection frameworks to take account of the government intention to reduce the number of areas and themes we report on and to focus inspection more closely on those in greatest need of improvement. As part of the framework revisions, Ofsted will monitor the passage of the Bill closely to ensure we are ready when it finally passes into law. We will ensure that, when the time comes to change our regulations or frameworks, the changes will be explained in detail and guidance will be updated accordingly

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