At the most basic level it must be remembered that it is the responsibility of each school to ensure that children (and adults) are safe at all times, that any DBS checks have been conducted and that risk assessments are in place. This includes all statutory responsibilities.
There have been some enquiries regarding safeguarding in respect of church involvement including the level of DBS that is needed for church volunteers working in schools. Clergy and other licensed ministers should have an enhanced DBS which includes barring through the diocese, this however refers to their role in church and to a specific workforce; the school must decide if their place in school is still part of the church role or is different and thus needs a further DBS. This is not a decision for the church.
There are many circumstances in which Church volunteers make valuable contributions to school life. Some of these involve individual or (at times) unsupervised work with children.
There is a very wide range of local variation in the ways that Churches work with schools so we cannot provide detailed guidance that will cover all possibilities but some specific examples are as follows:.
Open The Book (OTB) is an area of special vulnerability. OTB follows a carefully defined set of guidelines, however these do not ensure the quality of the offer nor statutory compliance.Members of any team may have DBS, but this will not necessarily have barring list check. In these cases, schools need to be clear about supervision. This is not simply concerning DBS but also the whole area of Health and Safety including Fire and Lockdown procedures etc.
A DBS certificate should be in place for all members of an OTB team. If children are involved in the OTB team then again care needs to be taken over the supervision.
An area to be particularly vigilant about is the nature of the activities. One of the characteristics of OTB in the diocese is that it evolves in response to local situations. Schools should take care to ensure that changes are monitored and that these are reflected in risk assessments. Risk assessment guidance is available from Local Authorities and Academy Trusts and also from the Health and Safety Executive.
Similar awareness needs to be maintained over Prayer spaces in schools. This activity might be led by external agencies (such as Be Space), church volunteers or a mixture. This activity is more likely to lead to the possibility of adults being alone with children. In this case, again, risk assessments should indicate how these possibilities might be mitigated against and what level of DBS may be appropriate. The Child Workforce Guide and Regulated activity in relation to children are helpful in this regard.
We would recommend that all such groups visiting school are supervised by a teacher or TA at all times.
Regular visitors from the church to school should be treated as any other volunteers under the guidance and statutory expectations, this includes training, supervision and levels of DBS. The last word rests with the school, it is not possible for the church to give guarantees or take action on behalf of the school or any volunteer – including clergy.
The advice in Keeping Children Safe in Education September 2023 is helpful in establishing levels of DBS and Schools are encouraged to seek advice from their DBS providers/Local Authorities/Academy Trusts regarding checks that are needed.
Churches need to make school aware that they need to verify all visitors who come into school from church and this includes. In all cases we urge schools to make complete risk assessments for all activities undertaken by Church volunteers. In this regard too, the Child Workforce Guide and Regulated activity in relation to children documents are very helpful.