Saturday, 5 March 2011

ID cards for teachers and staff

The advent of ID card safeguarding measures at School.

I know that ID cards for staff are one of a number of measures that follow on from some hard cases. Amongst them being the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. The Dunblane and Hungerford murders as well as a number of individual tragedies where public authorities have been seen to have performed inadequately. It is very difficult not to feel the pressure from the public that 'something must be done'. I looked at the National statistics office reports on child crime for the last reported year. Almost every category of child crime has increased. The question arises whether complex checking procedures might prove so burdensome to the officials involved that they take their eye 'off the ball'.

Were it only that I objected to being given a lead to wear, I would probably live with it, however, I want to put forward the argument that measures such as ID cards, CRB checks and the panoply of processes that underpin these policies are potentially damaging to those who the policy claims to protect while achieving no good.

ID cards of themselves are almost certainly an example of best practice in safeguarding and in our situation are probably inadequate by themselves. At some times of the day, people wander through from Tesco to the estate behind the school. I welcome them, we are a service to the community they are from but of course they represent a risk. A fence will surely follow. That also seems to be, if not best practice, then certainly common practice. Is this similar in a way to the recent habit of the wealthy to move into “gated” communities? By feeling it necessary to exclude everybody for fear of the very few, the rest of us on the outside cannot help but feel tainted by the finger of suspicion that is being unjustifiably pointed at us, by our accidental association with the “other”. Ironically, I know from observation, that the young men who sometime cause us problems on our site, will not find a 9ft palisade fence any obstacle at all.

The ID badge then, is a symbol to children that we, the badged, have passed some form of vetting procedure. Does that mean that they can then trust us to a greater extent than was the case prior to the ID badges being introduced.

Trust is, by its very nature, a human attitude. It is awarded even though we cannot prove that we are to be trusted. If the ID card did prove that we could be trusted, then the trust itself has been done away with in favour of an objective measure of something else. Assurance based on some kind of audit perhaps but not trust. When will children learn to use their own judgement rather than rely on an audit such as a CRB check which is what the badge signifies? Is a CRB check necessarily better than their own judgement? I don't know this but suspect policies, procedures and audits flourish whilst those rogues (badged or unbadged) that do exist in our midst will be camouflaged by the the fact that we no longer trust our of instincts and those of the children but rather, we rely on various badges and audit evidence.

Trust in us as teachers allows us to perform the duties that are necessary to defend the rights of children as they grow into adults and assume the duties and gain the trust that we will ultimately give up. If, as a society, we place more reliance on checks and processes and less on our humanity, a vital building block in our education has been lost.

ID cards make children passive acceptors of the protection offered by whoever validates the ID card. Rather than being an active citizen, learning to be sceptical but at the same time, developing the skills to know when to award trust, children become owners of the various rights bestowed upon them. They do not see that the process whereby the ID card is validated, should itself be trusted.

When we accept ID cards into the school, we are taking part in a little lie. None of us really believe that the children here are any safer with us having to wear these things than they were before and yet, by taking part, we validate a diminution of trust. Ultimately, someone or somebody has to be trusted. All that the ID card can possibly do is warrant that the wearer is legitimately on the premises, but then only if someone checks the badge regularly, which won't happen, the badge will disappear into the everyday furniture of school life and anyone wearing a white and blue rectangle on a string will gain by proxy the trust that they too are a legitimate holder of the right to be on the premises. This actually reduces the chance of a rogue being challenged.

To summarise, there appear to be no convincing benefits, a clear financial cost and possibly a safeguarding cost to this policy.

What are the practical costs or benefits?

In school, we are, presumably, protecting children from individuals who do not have the right to be on the school premises. From the POV of the younger children in the school, the difference in appearance between a young member of staff and a sixth former is so small that they cannot be expected to spot the difference between them. Consequently, how do we want a Y7 child to respond to an adult who does not wear a badge? Presumably we want them to be able to check anyone who appears to be over 16 and not wearing a badge who they do not recognise. We know that this is impractical and not something we would want the vast majority of the children to do anyway.

Just one example. The running of sectional ensembles in music often relies on the hard work of sixth form section leaders, this relationship is valuable. In addition we have Sports leaders, the school council and various charity events

The whole point of trust is that we bestow it on people and institutions as a matter of faith. The advent of the badge suggests that trust is no longer required because the badge has been bestowed as a consequence of a process which is taken on trust itself. All we have done is transfer the trust on behalf of the children, from someone they know (often very well) to someone that they almost definitely don't know. The badge, of itself, seeks to get the child to infer that the wearer is a legitimate visitor, but at no point in the process of allocating the badge, has the trustworthiness of the recipient been tested to any significant extent. To put it another way, the process of CRB and id checking underpinning the badge might encourage a view that we only trust because the checks are in place.

Since we know that the checks behind the badge are in fact fairly weak and further, that only a crude copy of the badge is necessary to allow a wearer to wander around unchallenged, we might seek to improve the badge process. The CRB system does not even pretend to achieve anything other than check the that the person involved has a convincing set of documents. It certainly cannot reliably check whether people have been in prison abroad and we have legions of foreign workers in the various child rearing industries. Thus I can see how we could easily end up in an arms race where the state or CRB bureau or whoever, generates an ever more complex set of defences against the rogue visitor. Meanwhile, we know that the summer visitors from a local evangelical body will get badges whilst arguably, doing the children no good at all while they peddle whatever material they are telling the children in the playground.

Blind adherence to a set of centrally planned procedures and protocols is no more a guarantee of safeguarding than excessive target setting and league tables have been a guarantee of good education. Safeguarding policy is an attempt to objectively protect the children while in school and we are best focusing on the common sense and training of staff in assessing risks of activities as they work rather than surrounding everything we do in a set of physical and procedural fences.

Child safety, like good education cannot be adequately described in a blueprint of procedures. A good school is a recipe, not a blueprint and like a recipe, the individual contribution of the parts to the whole cannot easily be described or prescribed.

One cost of this stamp of approval is, in my view, that the children become more suspicious of people that they see who have no badge. At the same time, the badge itself acts as an effective shield against what might otherwise be a healthy scepticism of the children in the school when they meet a stranger, rather than fear or suspicion because they have not been “badged”. An unwarranted fear which, arguably, helps to create a distrust of the general adult population and a perception of risk that is mostly unwarranted. We would be far better focussing the resources on other areas where the risk is real rather than spending scarce resources on things that fail to deliver any real benefit in the form of preventing the attention of a rogue from outside.

The trump card of course, is that should a safeguarding event occur, the investigation that turned up that we had decided not to institute ID cards would immediately draw erroneous conclusions about safeguarding policy in the school. I wonder what will be the next thing that we have to do just because everyone else has done it, rather than because we think it a good idea.
1The content results from readings of the nature of the just person, The Reith Lectures 2002 and miscellaneous other extracts about philosophy.

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