There are around 2,600 independent schools in the UK, providing education for 615,000 children. The sector is however coming under increasing financial pressure, partly due to schools closing through the Covid19 pandemic, and partly down to changes in government rules around tax breaks and charitable status for private schooling. One way of keeping revenue flowing could be widening access to sporting facilities, but this might not be as straightforward as it sounds.
Partnerships With Local Schools
One of the most common ways of widening access to facilities is by an independent school teaming up with a local counterpart in the state sector. This can help fulfil an independent school’s charitable remit, by allowing free access to swimming pools or sports pitches by local children. It also neatly sidesteps any issues around safeguarding or DBS checks for adults on school property. All adults coming into independent schools with state pupils will be DBS checked teachers or teaching assistants. Some schools go a step further and encourage their older pupils to get involved with younger children from state schools, working as sports coaches or lifeguards.
Perhaps a more lucrative option is to rent out sporting facilities during school holidays, when they are standing unused anyway. Schools often rent out facilities to independent holiday club providers, or allow local cricket, rugby or football teams to use facilities for training and matches. This can boost funds at a time when fees are not coming into the bank account. Holiday clubs and other organisations using facilities for children or adults will make their own arrangements in terms of DBS checking on staff; there is no requirement for independent school staff to be involved in checking at all.
The main area of concern is when independent schools wish to allow access to their facilities during term time, to groups unconnected to the school. This gets even trickier for boarding schools which have children living on site during the week, or for whole terms at a time. There is no “one size fits all” rule about what schools must do around criminal records checking for the Wednesday afternoon senior citizens badminton club, or the rugby team which wants to use the pool on a Sunday afternoon. In many cases, schools will be able to keep students and visitors totally separate. If however students and visitors are going to meet in corridors, or even be using facilities at the same time, there are risks around child protection and safeguarding.
It is unlikely that schools will be able to ask members of the public to have a criminal record check before using the pool. Many independent schools will therefore block all access to the public. In situations where the pool or pitch is being used by a sports coaching organisation or team, it is not unreasonable to expect that the leaders have full DBS checks. This is especially true if they are dealing with children themselves. The best course of action, however, is to keep children well away from sports facilities being used by the community.