One of the big misconceptions about the DBS system is that it just applies to people who are going to be working with children. In fact, disclosure checks apply to a much wider group of workers, often in sectors which have little to do with childcare. There’s been so much publicity about DBS for childcare workers that this had led to a very confusing picture. Both parents and childcare workers are often not sure about who needs disclosure checks, and at what levels. One of the most confusing aspects is the rules around parent helpers in school, whether on a one-off basis or more regularly.
If you have a child at school you’ve probably had the note home in the bag asking for parents to volunteer to help out on the annual school trip. Often, schools just don’t have enough permanent staff to cover the number of adults required on the trip, so try to make up the shortfall with parent helpers. Although you’ll often read that parents helping out at school for whatever reason need a DBS check, this isn’t in fact true. The law is that parents who are helping on an ad-hoc basis, as a one-off, don’t need a DBS check in most circumstances. The requirement only applies to people who are frequent volunteers. This is defined as someone who volunteers at least once a week, or four times over a four-week period. If someone is helping less frequently, then the school does not need to carry out a DBS check.
Although a DBS check is not needed for parents who are helping out once or twice during the school year, many schools have additional safeguarding procedures designed to protect both children and volunteers. These include things such as teaming parents up with other members of staff, instructing parents never to put themselves in the position of being alone with a child, or giving basic training on child protection issues. The one exception to the rules about DBS checks is when the trip involves an overnight stay or sleepover. In those circumstances, all adults need an enhanced DBS check.
Parents and other members of the community often volunteer to go into school to help out with sporting activities, support children with reading practice or to look after the school garden. If the volunteering is going to be weekly or more frequently, then schools will ask for a DBS check. As the voluntary role involves working with children, the disclosure will be at the enhanced level. The good news is that volunteers don’t have to pay for their DBS checks in most circumstances. This is true whether they are applying to help out in a school, or with other organisations like Brownies or sports clubs. School office managers are generally very clued up about how to go about applying for a DBS check, or the equivalent in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Schools and other organisations may also be happy to let you start helping out in school before your DBS certificate arrives. Many will pair you up with a DBS checked volunteer or teacher, ensuring that you’re never left on your own with children. Others might ask you to help out in other ways, such as preparing resources or other after-school tasks instead. This is at the discretion of the staff though, and the Head is well within their rights to ask you to wait until you have your certificate to begin your volunteering.
Getting A DBS Check
Most volunteers or parent helpers working in schools will need an enhanced DBS check. This is the most detailed level of disclosure checking and will involve a deep trawl through your criminal record. As well as revealing any of your current, unspent convictions and cautions, an enhanced disclosure will also potentially show older convictions which the police feel to be relevant. Of course, there might not be anything to disclose at all, in which case your certificate will just say “none found” or similar.
The process for getting a DBS check is just the same for volunteers as it is for paid members of staff. The only difference is one small box on the form which is ticked to say that you are carrying out the role unpaid. All DBS checks start with the application form. Depending on the processes within the individual school, you may be asked to fill the form in online or using a traditional paper copy. There’s no real advantage to either method, although online is quicker. The person at school who looks after DBS checks should be able to take you through the application process and help you with any questions on the form which you aren’t sure about. The DBS also has a telephone helpline available during office hours, or if your question isn’t urgent, you can email them too.
After you’ve completed the application form, the next step is to prove your identity. Bring the documents listed on the DBS website to school. There is a wide range of different documents you can supply. These include things like driving licence, passport, utility bills, bank statement or correspondence from HMRC. The school may want to take copies of your original documents but won’t want to keep the originals. Then your form is sent off to DBS.
Processing times at the DBS can vary depending on the police force involved. There’s no “fast track” option for volunteers either. In most cases, DBS checks are processed within three weeks, and a certificate sent out. DBS certificates are sent straight to the applicant, not to the school or local authority. That gives you the opportunity to have a look at the paperwork and make sure everything is correct before passing it on. Usually, school will take a look at your certificate and make a note of the number or take a photocopy. It’s not standard practice to keep original certificates. Schools also have their own policies about how often checks need to be renewed. This is usually every three to five years.