Although most students didn’t return to schools in the UK after the Christmas break, plans are being made to get as many students back into classrooms as quickly as possible. One of the strategies being considered is vaccinating teachers and other school staff. In addition, there are calls for teams of volunteers to go into secondary schools across England and set up a programme of testing for students. This would involve administering quick-response lateral flow tests to children, and then following the right protocols for anyone who tests positive. Concern has been raised about the fact that these volunteers won’t be DBS checked, but is this legal?
Regular, Regulated Activity
There’s a general misconception that everyone working with children and young people need to have a DBS check. That’s not the case though, as the system recognises that this requirement would make it impossible to have a parent accompany children on a school trip, or for a Brownie group to set up a parent rota for additional helpers. The law around DBS check says that any activity undertaken should be regular, at least once a week or four times a month. If schools are relying on volunteers to come into school just once or twice over the course of a month, then this doesn’t fulfil the definition of regular.
There’s also a secondary consideration around regulated activity. This is the legal definition of the work which means the employee needs a DBS check. Usually, people working as teachers or nurses are unsupervised when they are working. It remains to be seen how the in-school testing programme will operate. If children are testing themselves with adults just supervising, then this would most probably take place in a large space like a hall, with lots of children and adults all present at the same time. It could be argued that if volunteers are never going to be alone with children, then a DBS check is unnecessary.
People Who Already Have Checks
Many schools are trying to address these concerns around DBS checks by approaching people who already volunteer in school in some capacity, or who have DBS checks to work as exam invigilators or similar roles. Other schools are looking at recruiting volunteers whose regular role has been curtailed because of the Covid pandemic. This could include sports coaches, voluntary workers or dance teachers. Although not disclosed to work in schools, they have been DBS checked for working with children in another capacity.
Should Parents Be Concerned?
Leaving aside the contentious issues around schools opening and testing, parents are understandably worried about who may have access to their children. However, schools in the first instance will always consider the welfare of students. Schools will have considered all potential issues around vaccination or testing of students and should have worked out the best way to do this safely and efficiently. Parents shouldn’t feel embarrassed to ask to see a risk assessment, or to ask to speak to a senior member of staff to voice their concerns.