Is there still value in DBS checks for School Governors despite Ofsted guidance?

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Ofsted Safeguarding Children guidance states that volunteers within a school need only have a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check if they have regular and unsupervised access to children or young people.  Many Governing Bodies have since taken the decision to cease undertaking DBS checks for governors as within their roles as volunteers they do not work unsupervised with children but is this the right decision and is a DBS check just a safeguarding issue?

DBS disclosure checks are used within many sectors to determine the suitability of a person for a specific role working with children or a vulnerable adult. A conviction or caution is not necessarily determination of a person’s unsuitability for a role but does inform the employer of any risk assessment they need to consider in recruiting that person, be that for a paid or voluntary role.

What will you find out from a DBS Check?

 A DBS check will check for the following;

  • Spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands, final warnings (Basic Check)
  • As above – plus any additional information held locally by police forces that’s reasonably considered relevant to the post applied for (Enhanced Check)
  • As above – plus a check of the appropriate DBS barred lists – lists of people who are considered unsafe to work with children (Enhanced Check)

What can you do with that information?

It depends what information comes back on the disclosure. If a conviction, reprimand or warning is disclosed then this needs to be assessed as to what risk it presents today and in the role that the applicant is being considered for (or currently doing as DBS checks can be re-applied for when a person is in post). It may be that a person has a theft conviction from their teenage years – would this prevent them from being a suitable governor in their 40’s? It may be that a person has a drug conviction 3 years ago – would this prevent them from being a suitable governor today? What about a person who has been convicted for fraud? Risk assessing and documenting that assessment and decision-making on a individual case basis is crucial. It may be appropriate that the Governing Body agree a small panel to undertake the risk assessment and decision to adhere to data protection requirements and maintain appropriate confidentiality. For me The Chair of Governors and Head Teacher would be the obvious choices.

Decision Made?

If Governing Bodies do decide to continue to undertake DBS checks for existing and prospective governors then they need to have minuted their discussions, recorded what factors they have considered, how and why they reached the decision and agree a process that can be supplied to those who are required to have a DBS check. Governors should realise that failing to supply this information to prospective governors may put them off from standing; for example they may assume a disclosed conviction will prevent them from the role or may be cautious of supplying confidential information about themselves to the school where their children attend.

 What are the costs?

A DBS Check is free to undertake for volunteers so there is not a cost implication for school governors to consider. There is however a time implication and governors would need to decide who would have responsibility for completing the form with the DBS applicant, in my experience the applicant will always have lost one of the main pieces of ID evidence required or pay all their utility bills online so not have a suitable letter with their home address on! A DBS form and the returned completed DBS disclosure includes a lot of confidential and personal information related to the applicant so this must be a consideration when determining who will undertake the application process. It would be appropriate for the Clerk to Governors to undertake the check as they would have the necessary awareness of and diligence to confidentiality and data protection.

What about Ofsted?

I am a great believer in Governing Bodies making decisions where the impact of that decision on the children within the school can be identified. Governors would be churlish to pay no attention to Ofsteds view on DBS checks but they shouldn’t make a decision just because they want to curry favour with a visiting Ofsted Inspector! If Governors adopt the approach above to undertake DBS checks for their current and future Governors then they need to be able to share with their Ofsted inspector how they reached the decision, why they did and how they consider that decision benefits the children in their school – that is demonstrating good leadership and management.

Good luck with your decision-making – please do share with me how you get on or join the debate….

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