January 13th, 2023 | Sterling

Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) 2022: Background Screening Considerations for Safer Recruitment in Schools and Colleges

The Department for Education (DfE) has statutory guidance which sets out the responsibilities of all schools and colleges in England on safeguarding children and safer recruitment to promote the welfare of children and young people – ‘Keeping children safe in education.’ This guidance applies to all schools and colleges and is for headteachers, teachers and staff, as well as governing bodies, proprietors, and management committees. It sets out the legal duties that must be followed to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people under the age of 18 in schools and colleges. Statutory guidance sets out what schools must do to comply with the law. Where the guidance states schools and colleges should do something, then they should follow this unless there’s a good reason not to.

KCSIE 2022

A new version of the guidance was published in September 2022, with the following updates made in relation to safer recruitment:

  • Clarified what should be included in written notifications and when they are required, including online delivery.
  • Clarified that a curriculum vitae (CV) should only be accepted alongside a full application form. CVs on their own will not contain all the information required to support safer recruitment.
  • Schools should consider online searches as part of their due diligence checks on shortlisted candidates. Also reiterated the need to comply with the law on data protection and UK GDPR.
  • Clarified what should be included in written notifications and when they are required, including online delivery.

For a detailed summary of the updates to this guidance, the NSPCC has produced a handy guide which can be accessed here.

The KCSIE guidance has always included requirements to background screen and regularly check the staff working around children or young adults for safeguarding purposes, however this is the first time the DfE has specified that online and social media checks should be conducted unless there is good reason not to. The guidance states: “As part of the shortlisting process, schools and colleges should consider carrying out an online search (including social media) 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.”

Why perform online searches?

Online and Social media checks are becoming a more popular method of gaining insight into a person’s character, behaviour and values, in part owing to the ease in accessibility of social media platforms which are increasingly becoming an essential part of peoples’ lives. In a recent report by  Sterling, recruiters revealed that 52% of employers within the EMEA region are considering adding social media checks to their background screening program in order to make hiring more robust.

It’s important to understand the two broad reasons why online checks should be incorporated into the recruitment process – safeguarding children and protecting reputation. Educational institutions do not want to recruit anyone who may present a risk to the children they are responsible for and/or could potentially tarnish the reputation of their institution and the associated governing bodies. 

Online searches should be used to identify publicly available content that might indicate that a person is unsuitable to recruit into an environment where young people are present. Such content might include offensive behaviour, jokes or language, discriminatory comments, inappropriate photos, drug or alcohol misuse, and anything that suggests a candidate may not be suitable to work with children or young adults.

There are numerous high-profile examples of unsuitable individuals who were nonetheless recruited for teaching jobs and worked closely with vulnerable children and teenagers, and went on to abuse their positions. Recruitment programs with appropriate and robust background checks that are specifically designed for persons working within the education industry could have prevented some of the crimes committed against innocent children in previous years.

Every possible effort should be made to protect vulnerable members of society.

Key considerations for online searches

The guidance about online checks is somewhat open to interpretation. Educational institutions have been asked to ‘consider carrying out an online search (including social media),’ but it fails to stipulate how they should be conducted, at what specific time during the recruitment stage, and how far back they should search.

Conducting online and social media checks in-house can be a minefield, so it’s always worth considering the benefits of outsourcing these to a third party who will be able to provide expert guidance to help you formulate a robust and compliant program. Engaging an external partner also mitigates the risk of employer bias and helps to establish a consistent and thorough approach. A third party will guide your organisation to formulate a robust online search program and will conduct the searches on your behalf. Key areas that need to be taken into careful consideration are:  

  • Defining an ideal employee’s persona which emulates your business’ values, culture, and the industry within which you operate. Then, consider the opposite, undesirable behaviours, and attitudes by asking what would make you think twice about hiring someone? What might be considered negative or risky behaviours? Once you have a clear view of what you do and do not want from an employee, it’s good to think about how this might differ depending upon a person’s level of seniority or specific role within the business.
  • Deciding which online sources will be checked, the timeframe to be searched, and the nature of the information. Remember that only publicly available online information should be considered and only content generated by the individual should be screened.
  • Determining how the results should be presented to the hiring manager so that a compliant, nondiscriminatory decision can be reached using only relevant information and without sharing aspects within the Equality Act 2010, such as ‘protected characteristics’ (which include race, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, marital status, and pregnancy and maternity) so that these remain private. The output from an online screen should provide sufficient information to make an informed decision, only disclosing relevant findings that could present a risk or threat to your organisation.
  • Finally, if your business has an international workforce, country specific data protection and privacy laws must be thoroughly understood to mitigate the risk of breaching these. Some countries have single or multiple privacy or data protection laws that result in comprehensive coverage while other countries do not have specific data protection and privacy laws but have some coverage in their constitution and other laws. The EU’s GDPR is just one example to take into consideration.

Search with confidence

Outsourcing checks to a third-party partner helps employers mitigate risk by exposing themselves only to relevant information and aspects listed within the Equality Act 2010, such as ‘protected characteristics’ remain private. The output from an online search should provide sufficient information to make an informed decision, only disclosing relevant findings that could present a risk or threat to your organisation.

With a clearly defined, comprehensive online screening strategy that is stringently followed, education providers can confidently benefit from the value online searching adds to a background screening program – helping you to develop a safer and secure environment for young people to thrive, whilst protecting and strengthening your reputation.

Indeed, Sterling’s expertise in compliance extends across its entire portfolio of background screening and identity verification, including DBS checks (both basic and enhanced), to help organisations operating in the education sector, and beyond, to conduct appropriate checks on people who work or have regular contact with children (or young adults). At Sterling, we provide our clients with screening programs aligned with evolving government regulations and privacy laws that make thorough background and identity checks increasingly important.

Are social media checks on your organisation’s radar? Get in touch with us today to find out more.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.