Schools like prisons
Today I did what I do most days - went to a primary school to perform a puppet show. There was however something different about what happened today. For the first time ever (and I have been around for a few years) I was told that in order to gain entry to the school I not only had to show my enhanced CRB check but also back this up with my passport. Clearly something is going very wrong here. Firstly, as a performer I should not require CRB clearance at all. I am not working unsupervised with children in a position of authority. More importantly, where is this photo ID idea coming from? I was told categorically by the receptionist and then the school administrator and then the head teacher that they were required to ask for both these as a matter of Birmingham Education Department policy and that it was a legal requirement for me to comply. As it happened I did furnish my CRB check and show my driving license but I also challenged the fact that I was being asked for to do so. I believe that it is neither a legal requirement nor a matter of department policy for someone in my position to provide these papers. It is a mistaken interpretation of the relevant guidance,
I grow increasingly concerned at the way our schools which are after all public buildings are increasingly being turned into gated communities with entry systems that would be more appropriate for a high security prison. It is not that uncommon to find high fences and razor wire surrounding primary schools. Even when you get inside you often discover that internal doors are subject to the same level of security including staff rooms.
I am aware of the serious issues of child safety and I remember Dunblain and Soham, but these extremely rare incidents seem to have led us to create learning environments that whilst they may be safe give out terrible messages to our children. We seem to be telling them that the world is so evil that it needs to be locked out at all times. Is this a good or accurate message? The truth is that they are many times more vulnerable in their own homes and amongst there own families than they are to attack or abuse at school. This is not of course an argument for doing nothing to keep schools safe but it is an argument against a silly over reaction that requires visitors to show advanced criminal records checks and passports. There is further folly to be found in all this. A CRB check is a point in time check. The one that got me into this school today was actually several years old. It does not show that I do not have a record but merely that I did not have a record at that point in time. I could have notched up any number of crimes in the interim. Beyond that of course they create a false sense of security because having a clear check only means that you have no convictions. It does not prove that you are a good person. You could be the devil himself and never have been caught. Of course I suspect that is not really the point here. The point is that if you did do something terrible the school would have covered its back in terms of being open to criticism.
I will continue to protest against requests for this stuff in inappropriate circumstances, but I will be as pragmatic as ever and keep my CRB check in my back pocket.