School exchanges – love them or loathe them, they have been a stalwart of the school calendar for many years. Their advocates state that they can help students improve their language fluency whilst also providing a form of cultural exchange. However, there are concerns that the new requirements upon schools to obtain criminal records checks may have sounded their death knell.
Criminal record check requirements
The new guidance suggests that schools must obtain a criminal record check (now known as DBS, or Disclosure and Barring Service check) for all of the English families that will host foreign students as part of an exchange trip, and that they should request a similar assurance from the host family that will look after the English students abroad.
The information provided by the basic DBS is whether the individual has any recent and relevant criminal convictions. However, it would not reveal whether anyone had been barred from working with children or vulnerable adults. Only a standard or enhanced DBS check could provide such information, and they can only be requested by employers.
A basic DBS can be requested by anyone, through companies such as http://www.carecheck.co.uk, although it is much more usual for them to be requested by employers and potential employees than by parents whose children are going on a school exchange.
An onerous burden
There has been some confusion as to whether the DBS check is obligatory, as it was reported that an internal email sent from the Department for Education (DfE) suggested that there was no requirement to obtain such checks, but it was for school leaders to decide whether to do so or not. Of concern for school leaders, however, is that the email went on to suggest that schools could be challenged on their decision, if they decided not to carry out these checks.
Clearly, it is a large administrative burden on already overloaded schools to carry out such checks on every adult that a child may come into contact with. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that partner schools have been reluctant to make mirror requests of their children’s parents.
Alternative suggestions have been that DBS checks should be requested only if a school is aware of potential child protection issues within families, but the DfE has yet to clarify its position.