Thursday, July 16, 2009

Suffer the little children to come unto me for I've been checked by the ISA

I'm delighted that a bunch of well-known childrens' authors, with Philip Pullman and Michael Morpurgo at their head, are refusing to cooperate with a body called the Independent Safeguarding Authority in being "checked" prior to giving readings in schools. It needs a case like this to draw attention to the damage being done to all of us by the all-pervasive belief that children:
a) survive their childhood thanks only to the ceaseless vigilance of adults;
b) are at most risk from the people who are set in authority above them;
c) can be protected from predators by a cursory records check.

I've been going into schools from time to time over the years in a professional and parental capacity. In the last ten years I've grown sadly used to the feeling that I am likely to be seen as a sinister interloper unless I'm properly badged and certificated and in the presence of a licenced teacher with a stun gun. It's that depressing presumption of guilt that Pullman is objecting to. I think he and his colleagues may bring about some change. Good luck to them.


  1. It does seem a rather narrow campaign, Pullman is presumably not suggesting scrapping police checks for all people who work with children and vulnerable people just occasional visitors like himself. The system isn't really set up for this type of person anyway because the CRB check is I believe only meant to cover working for one employer. It's an issue we've come across at work and which central government hasn't fully resolved.
    Of course relying on bits of paper isn't the way forward Ian Huntley had had various checks I believe before getting his job he'd just gave miss leading information (which wasn't crossed checked). So it has to a mixture of measures and practices. But on the other hand papers including the Telegraph are prone to jump on any failing in these systems so you can't blame schools for covering themselves.

    It's a case of damned if they do damned if don't and also the public are very unforgiving on these matters. We do need a balanced way forward.

  2. As a teacher I have a lot of sympathy for you David. You are right about the way adults are made to feel when in schools - not necessarily by the schools themselves (i'd like to think my school is open and welcoming!) but by the culture engendered by society.

    I think it's a tragedy that as teachers we are continually presented with more and more barriers between education and the world outside of school. Which is particularly ironic given that new curriculum changes press for learning that is more relevant and rooted in real world issues.

    Safeguarding of children is naturally of primary importance, but increasingly I wonder 'at what cost?'

    Not that any simple change of government will change anything though... it's a cultural issue that goes way beyond party politics. Maybe this kind of 'ground up' rebellion will change a few things. We can but hope.

  3. The fear of being labeled a peado prevents adults from protecting children.

    I was with my son in a playground recently and I could see a toddler about to bang his head - I thought about grabbing him and then stopped myself.

    So the kid bangs his head and cries for 20 seconds - a trivial outcome but it makes me wonder if more serious incidents happen for similar reasons?

  4. Mr drayton1:29 pm

    A few years back the Dad of the family who lived along from me died. His wife struggled on with three kids. I took the two youngest out regularly, bike rides, pictures, what ever I could do. We have a great laugh, and I hope they had someone they could rely on.
    I dread to think how I would be seen if I offered to do the same think now.

  5. I went into our parish church a while ago, just to look at the architecture - I'd never been in before.

    But since there was a children's craft workshop going on in one part of the church, they weren't allowing any adults into the main part of the building.


    (Word verification: zyzoozle. Worthy of Dr Seuss.)

  6. I saw the headline in one of the dailies. I was flabbergasted. I would take the same stance in their shoes.

    It's as silly as the old redneck mantra of 'reds under the bed'; the same sort of unreasoning fear that is blown out of all proportion.

    I'll echo your wishes.

  7. But 'proportion' is hard to quantify isn't it? The unfortunate fact is that predatory behaviour and grooming happens. I'm in sympathy with the views expressed but what we're really saying is that if what we wanted took place (relaxing controls on adults working with children), the certainty of more children suffering is worth is for the 'greater good' of reduced suspicion.

    That may well be valid - as long as we're clear that's what it really means.

  8. I was at the Test Match today. One of our party was delayed because he was trying to help a seven-year-old who'd been left behind on the Tube when his mother had got off. The fact that he had to administer this help without actually touching the child (as in holding his hand which would have been the standard means of dealing with it whenIworalad) only increased his and the boy's anxiety. It didn't used to be this way. The current climate discourages adults from doing the right thing and plants in children the belief that there are bad people out there who mean them harm. As far as I can see no system in the world is ever going to provide the protection that might be provided if we were all just encouraged to look out for each other's kids.

  9. I'm sick and tired of feeling like a criminal when I visit my son's school. My wife walks in. I have to be escorted.

    I'm sick and tired of explaining to well-meaning mums that I'm picking up my kid from school because I *want* to and not because "your wife made you didn't she?".

    I'm a parent, an ex-teacher (I have ceased to be). I understand the risks and I understand the reality.

    Something is rotten. Really stinky.

  10. But the counter-argument from the current Children's Laureate was why authors see themselves as somehow different from the rest of the population that visit school to help children and who are supervised in the same way that authors are.

    Michael Morpurgo argued that he quite rightly has multiple CRB checks for the other activities he undertakes. From what I can gather, the new ISA regulations mean that you'd only need a single check that could then be checked by every employer/ organisation.

    The new ISA regs are not about declaring you're not a paedophile, it's about keeping children safe in the light of how Ian Huntley was able to get round the current "multiple checks for multiple employer" CRB system.