Schools

Thousands wait months for DBS checks as police overwhelmed

As many as one in ten school workers faced waits of over 60 days in some areas last year, investigation reveals

As many as one in ten school workers faced waits of over 60 days in some areas last year, investigation reveals

Investigation

Thousands of school workers waited two months or longer for DBS checks last year as staff shortages and rising demand overwhelmed police forces.

Freedom of information data shows 10,447 Disclosure and Barring Service checks for workers in English schools, 2.59 per cent of those submitted in the 2022-23 academic year, took more than 60 days to complete.

This is more than triple the rate in 2021-22, when 0.69 per cent of checks, or 2,673, took more than 60 days to complete. In 2020-21, 0.28 per cent of checks (913) took more than two months.

We’ve definitely got examples of people missing out on work

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, warned that lengthy “unnecessary” delays to recruitment would result in more schools having to use supply staff and non-subject specialists.

“It all adds to the pressure that school leaders and teachers are under and the sense that there has been widespread underinvestment in public services.”

Police forces have a service-level agreement with the DBS to complete all checks within 60 days. However, it is non-statutory, so can be breached.

Geoff Barton
Geoff Barton

The organisation said “some applications in a small number of counties” took longer because of “extra demand for checks and police resource shortages”.

But they said 84 per cent of enhanced checks for the education sector were completed within 14 days last year. The target is 80 per cent.

In Kent and North Yorkshire, about one in ten school workers waited more than two months for their check last academic year.

Monthly data obtained by Schools Week also shows the wait was longer at certain points in the year in some areas.

In January, three in ten checks for school workers in Northumbria took more than than 60 days.

‘Unprecedented’ vacancies

In West Yorkshire, about one in 20 checks took longer than two months. The police force said it had an “unprecedented level of vacancies”.

“Roles within the DBS team are specialist, with training taking nine to 12 months. This had an impact on the ability to meet service level agreement measures set out by DBS and the Home Office.”

It is now meeting all its targets and only has 0.9 per cent of cases taking more than 60 days.

There were 403,289 applications from school workers last academic year, up 4.4 per cent on the 386,365 applications in 2021-22, and 34 per cent higher than the 300,474 in 2019-20.

In Derbyshire, where one in 12 checks took more than 60 days last year, the police force said it received “9,320 more applications than the predictions suggested” in 2022 and 2023, “leaving a shortfall in funding for staffing.”

The force now has funding for three temporary staff, “but it is expected to take around six months for them to be recruited, vetted, fully trained and in post”.

Schools Week revealed last month how delays to checks also held up the start dates of school staff this term. One supply teacher who waited 11 weeks said they finally got the all-clear in late September.

Extra funding to ‘help forces cope’

Niall Bradley, the chair of the National Supply Teachers Network, said the delays left members unable to work.

Neil Carberry, from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said ongoing regional variability “is a particular source of frustration”, with some staff waiting as long as 14 weeks.

“The challenge for agencies is we can’t tell either the teacher or the school with any certainty how long it’s going to be. We’ve definitely got examples of people missing out on work because of it.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said “a small number of forces” were having difficulties in meeting their target times for enhanced checks.

This was “primarily due to extra demand for DBS checks and the number of vacancies within some force disclosure units which they are in the process of filling”.

They added it was “important from a safeguarding perspective that we allow all police forces the time to make the correct decisions and go through such diligence”.

A spokesperson for the DBS said “neither Ofsted nor the Department for Education, who we closely engage with, have raised any concerns with us about delays in education sector recruitment”.

They said the statistics provided to Schools Week “clearly show that during the most recent school year period, on average 84 per cent of DBS enhanced checks issued to the education sector were completed within 14 days”.

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