Volunteering at British schools

I loved everything about the state-funded school my son attended for 6 months when we were in the UK and have written about the experience here. In most respects, I preferred the English school to the New Zealand school he attends now. I say most respects because there was one thing about the English school that was just *absurd*: the police checks required for parent volunteers who want to help out in the classroom.

I have always helped out in Daniel’s class just once a week for an hour or so since he started year 1 (he’s year 3 now). In New Zealand, anyone can volunteer and there’s no form to fill in and no police check to perform and no identification required. You simply negotiate a suitable time with the teacher, turn up and provide support for them. Daniel has always loved me doing this and I have found it useful knowing what they’re up to and his teachers have always been extremely grateful for the help.

When he started school in York, I volunteered my services again, only this time there was a form to fill in and a police check to undergo. This would have been fine except that identification was required. Unfortunately all I had with me was a New Zealand driver’s licence in my married name and an Australian passport in my maiden name (neither document was sufficient on its own). I stupidly didn’t take my marriage certificate or any other documentation with me to the UK. This meant that they could not confirm my identity. The school told me that they’d send the forms off to the police anyway but that I’d probably have to be fingerprinted. This was fine – especially since we had already been fingerprinted at Heathrow airport upon arrival – except that quite a few months passed before I heard back from the police and by the time I did, we only had a month left in York and so I decided it wasn’t worth it as there was still going to be a 4-6 week wait after my fingerprints were taken.

So I never got to volunteer at a State school in the UK which means that schools are turning away *free* help. I can understand why teachers and people who work with children should probably be police-checked, but a parent who is never alone with the children? I think this is ridiculous.

10 thoughts on “Volunteering at British schools

  1. It is worse, Rachel. One police check won’t cover you for multiple jobs with children. Unless our politicians have fixed the stupidity, you could have worked in multiple schools, youth clubs, sports clubs and so on and needed police checks for all. Last time I had one done it cost me £44 which was extortionate. And the sad fact is they are less than foolproof with lots of examples of people who shouldn’t have been allowed near children getting through and innocent people prevented from doing their jobs because of similar sounding names.

      1. My understanding is that you now get a number. If you want to then volunteer at multiple places they can do the check much more easily than was the case a few years ago. My understanding may, of course, be wrong as that sounds too sensible to actually be true 🙂

      2. AndThen,

        Thanks. That seems more sensible although I still think it’s ridiculous that it’s required at all.

        A friend of ours in York started up weekly soccer training herself for her daughter because she felt all the choices available were too competitive and her daughter wanted something more relaxed and fun. So she asked around to see how many other kids would like to join in, bought some balls and goals and various other things then simply set up on a field every Saturday morning. It was wonderful. There ended up being about 10 different families involved. She never charged anything, the kids just loved it and for us parents it was an enjoyable social outing each Saturday. We even had a couple of soccer parties. Because it was all so relaxed and we ended up knowing each other all quite well, no-one ever got permission from anyone to teach the kids soccer.

        Others have told me that to do something like this, even if you just want to volunteer, you need to worry about insurance and police checks and lots of other things. This is not something we ever worried about and it would be ridiculous to think that parents could not go to a public field somewhere to teach their kids how to play soccer.

      3. Yes this is true about the improved system for multiple places these days. There is a new system called Disclosure and Barring that replaced the old CRB. It is much simpler. The principle of having multiple ID documents however is still essential to the new process, so I hope that when you come to live in Aberdeen permanently, you will be able to volunteer your services. It is a shame you didn’t get to before 😦

      4. Part of the problem for me was that both my IDs were foreign. If I’d had a British driver’s licence or a British passport, then either one on its own would have been sufficient I think. In any case it’s not going to be a problem anymore because I’ve since renewed my Australian passport and changed my surname on it. I never bothered before because when I got married I had only just renewed it and also because it’s perfectly legal to use one’s maiden name on an Australian passport.

  2. I understand your frustration Rachel. I worked for the NHS briefly and had to have a CRB check. Also when I first moved back here I helped out in Sunday school and had to have one then. To emigrate to America I had to have an FBI check done, not only to check that I didn’t have a criminal background but that I wasn’t a drug or alcoholic addict. Thankfully for me, having my dad as a lifelong convict and in prison didn’t have any bearing on my background checks. However, I did apply for a job in the Police department once (forensics, was qualified and would have loved it) but they probably took one look at my family declaration and binned my application immediately. I never heard a word from them!!
    I wonder if the CRB checks here (and having read the comments, I didn’t know about the new one Denise mentioned) came in after the Dunblane school shootings? Or maybe later after the tragic murder of those two schoolgirls by Ian Huntley, a school janitor who slipped through the cracks due to poor checks and so was allowed to get away with working so closely to children despite his criminal past? I wonder if these checks are a necessary ‘evil’ because of the evil committed by the few?

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