May 2022 edition: Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022

Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022

The 2022 version of Keeping Children Safe in Education landed on 20 May 2022. Along with some tweaks around the edges and an expansion of Part 5, there are two important changes we need to start work on now to make sure we are ready for September. This article sets out what you need to do now for one of those key changes: Online searches on shortlisted candidates.

Paragraph 220 of the guidance has introduced an expectation that schools and colleges carry out an online search as part of the due diligence into shortlisted candidates. The full paragraph reads:

"In addition, as part of the shortlisting process schools and colleges should consider carrying out an online search as part of their due diligence on the shortlisted candidates. This may help identify any incidents or issues that have happened, and are publicly available online, which the school or college might want to explore with the applicant at interview.”

The change is short and simple but as ever, the devil is in the detail (or in this case, the lack of it). What the guidance doesn’t tell us is the what, the who, the how and the how far.

There is a similarity here to how we manage adverse information on DBS certificates or gaps in the application form: we review it, consider its relevance and impact, and invite the candidate to address any identified issues.

Dai Durbridge

Before we get to that, let’s clear up one concern: this change does not throw any specific legal spanners in the works, we just need to make sure we do not use what we find to unlawfully discriminate against candidates.

The how and the what

Interestingly, three words that appeared in the draft guidance have been removed from the published version: "(including social media)”. The clear intention when the draft version was consulted upon was for social media to be expressly included in the checks. The removal of that phrase does not mean you must not (or indeed should not) check social media, it simply makes it a choice. My recommendation is you do check social media; it is here that you are likely to find matters of concern if they exist.

The guidance offers no suggestions on how to meet this expectation, so we need to build the process ourselves. My recommendation is you start with the obvious and build from there – Google search and then the most popular social media and video sharing platforms, such as LinkedIn, Meta (Facebook), Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.

To determine the ‘what’, first consider why this change is being made: safeguarding (mainly) and protecting your Trust’s reputation. So, we are looking for evidence of inappropriate or offensive behaviour, discrimination, drug or alcohol misuse, inappropriate photos or videos and anything else that questions their suitability to work with children. The procedure you develop should include listing the sites/content you will check as a minimum to ensure a level on consistency.

The how far

This is the most challenging aspect of implementing this requirement. I’m still hopeful that the DfE will provide a little bit of guidance on this point so we can have some agreed and sensible parameters to ensure consistency across education. If not, we’ll need to come up with them ourselves. As a starting point, I suggest considering at least the last five years. Again, it would be sensible to set out the time period in your procedure.

The who

I recommend the searches are carried out by someone unconnected to the recruitment process to reduce the risk of discrimination. That individual can then pass on only the relevant information they found to the recruitment team, withholding irrelevant information relating to age, gender, etc.

You should also consider tech solutions. Certain sectors of the commercial world (such as finance and law) have been carrying out adverse media checks as part of their regulatory compliance for a number of years. Those organisations do not rely on their own staff for these checks; they use external providers who specialise in searching for and providing this information. For those of you who already work with providers for support with vetting and onboarding new staff, it is worth engaging with them to see how they plan to help you with this aspect of vetting.

How to use the information

Once passed to the recruitment team the information should be considered as part of the wider recruitment process. There is a similarity here to how we manage adverse information on DBS certificates or gaps in the application form: we review it, consider its relevance and impact, and invite the candidate to address any identified issues.

Your next steps

This requirement comes into force in the September 2022 version of the guidance and so it is sensible to start work now.

Focus on developing your process and procedure to cover off the what, the how, the how far and the who, and to build a simple process and timeline for how the information will be shared with the recruitment team, how they will interpret it and how the candidate will be given the opportunity to address your concerns. Finally, review your safer recruitment process and timeline to slot in these changes.

Browne Jacobson is a CST Platinum Partner.