Safer Recruitment and Child Protection in an International Setting

In this blog, we cover safer recruitment in an international setting including how safer recruitment is the first vital step in protecting children and the lessons that can be learned from serious case reviews. We offer practical guidelines that you can embed into the recruitment procedures within your establishment.

Safer recruitment is the first vital step in protecting children from harm and is essential for effective safeguarding in any setting. In this blog,, we cover the safer recruitment process for international schools as well as specific concerns from the international sector. Continue reading to find out the lessons that can be learned from serious case reviews, the single central record, 3 stages of safer recruitment, and 8 practical guidelines that you can embed into the recruitment procedures within your establishment.

The practice of safer recruitment should be applied to all individuals working with children and young people whether paid or voluntary.  The examples listed below focus on schools, however, the same principles apply to sports teams, social clubs and other organised or extra-curricular activities that children and young people may participate in. 


Safer Recruitment – an Entire Organisation Mindset

Child protection is not just the job of the teaching staff at a school or organisation. Every member of the organisation must understand that child protection is their job. All members of staff should have received child protection or safeguarding training and understand the organisation’s policies and procedures. Even staff members in non-teaching roles such a catering, groundskeeping, or maintenance roles should be aware of their role in protecting students.

Every member of staff has the potential to notice concerns and report them. For example, a groundskeeper who works late may be present during after-school sports training and notice inappropriate behaviour from the coach, something a teacher may not be present to see. These members of staff are vital for aiding in protecting the students of the organisation and provide oversight over the entire school.


International Child Protection Concerns?

Below are some key findings from the UK NSPCC research into the prevalence of severe child   maltreatment, abuse at home, in school, and the community, from adults and peers:

  • 1 in 5 children in Europe are victims of some form of sexual violence. It is estimated that in 70% to 85% of cases, the abuser is somebody the child knows and trusts.
  • It's estimated that at least 1 in 7 children in the US has experienced child abuse and/or neglect in the past year.
  • Africa and Asia are among the regions with the highest rates of child sexual abuse (CSA) in the world.
  • Violence, abuse, and exploitation of children in West and Central Africa are tragic aspects of childhood. Surveys show that the vast majority of children experience violent discipline. Nearly one in three teenage girls have been beaten or hit since the age of 15, and one in 10 raped or sexually abused.
  • From 68 studies it was estimated that in Asia 26.6% of children under 18 years of age have suffered physical abuse, 19.6% emotional abuse, 8.7% sexual abuse , and 26.0% neglect.

Shockingly only 15% of countries worldwide have sex offender registry laws and in the UK the minimum time offenders are listed on the registry is only 2 years. These statistics reveal the need for safer recruitment practices worldwide to ensure organisations are doing everything possible to protect children, young people, and vulnerable adults.



Learning the Lessons from Serious Case Reviews*

*health warning - please note some of the content in this section can be upsetting

William Vahey

In 1969 American citizen William Vahey was convicted in California of sex offences towards young boys while working as a teacher’s aide. In 1970 Vahey was released from jail after serving a 90-day jail sentence and was placed on the sex offender’s registry which required him to inform authorities when he changed address. He did not do this, and the authorities failed to keep tabs on him. 

In 1972 Vahey qualified as a teacher and over the next 42 years would be employed by 10 different international schools, none of his employers picked up on his 1969 conviction.  In the case of Vahey, effective information sharing at the beginning of his career could have prevented decades of abuse. 

Vahey was hiding in plain sight and went undetected for so long despite displaying worrying behaviours such as altering accommodations of pupils on school trips and insisting on having keys to the pupil’s rooms, as well as making comments to pupils of a sexual nature. 

Once the news broke on the extent of Vahey’s abuse several former colleagues came forwards to share how controlling, ill-tempered and suspicious Vahey was, but how they did not know how to proceed further regarding these concerns, largely due to his wife’s powerful status as the head of European Council for International Schools. 

The serious case review into Vahey showed how many missed opportunities there were to uncover his behavior and prevent his abuse with colleagues feeling unwilling or unable to speak out, highlighting how important policies are to give staff clarity on raising concerns. 

Richard Huckle

One of Britain’s most prolific predatory pedophiles, Huckle from Ashford, Kent, was grooming and abusing children between 2006-2014. For nearly a decade Huckle travelled around South East Asia visiting schools and orphanages, posing as an English teacher.

At the time of his arrest in 2014, the freelance photographer was compiling a manual to teach fellow pedophiles how to abuse children and avoid detection. He had even bragged online at the ease of targeting impoverished children compared with those from wealthy western backgrounds.

He was jailed in 2016 after admitting 71 charges of sexual abuse against children aged between six months and 12 years old, although his number of victims is suspected to be closer to 200. 

These two case studies show the need for information sharing on a global scale. It was shockingly easy for these two men to travel to conceal their histories of child sexual abuse. Schools are in a good position to proactively deter individuals from applying for positions by having safer recruitment policies and processes in place, requiring proof of identity, criminal checks, and contacting authorities in other countries they have lived in to ensure there is no criminal history.

Children and vulnerable adults have the right to live free from harm, it is therefore a school’s responsibility to ensure unsuitable individuals cannot work with these groups.


3 Stages to Safer Recruitment

  1. Deter - stop unsuitable people applying for a position. Sending out clear messages in job applicants and advertisements and ensuring your proactive culture of safeguarding is clear through your website, should make it clear to anyone prospective employees where you stand on safeguarding and how committed you are to ensuring safer recruitment processes are followed.
  2. Identify and Reject - Unsuitable people lie to get close to children, details given must be checked, cross-referenced and applicants screened. Previous cases show that would be abusers are incredibly determined and can be accomplished liars so it is important to obtain and scrutinise references. References should be obtained directly from the source and ideally, a phone call should be made to the school to follow up. Pre-prepared written references provided by the applicant should not be relied upon. A minimum of two questions relating specifically to safeguarding should be asked at the interview stage as well. Safeguarding software for safer recruitment, such as Sentry®, often have features which allow rigorous reference checks. In Sentry you can upload files against checks, allow additional note fields and additional reference details against an individual’s records. 
  3. Prevent and Reject - Follow up with a rigorous induction and probation period to check the right person has been appointed.

It doesn’t stop here, the process of keeping children safe is never-ending, you should be promoting a safe culture within your organisation, following rigorous safeguarding policies and procedures, and maintaining awareness through staff training.



The Single Central Record

The SCR is a register that records all the essential recruitment checks that are undertaken before a person being appointed to a role. While there is no one system in the International School sector and as such no statutory requirements, the principles of SCR however are still sound for international schools to practice.

These would include checks on the following:

  • The applicant’s identity, the original passport should be seen and verified
  • Criminal background checks - The type and complexity will vary considerably with International Schools depending on the countries that staff originate, as well as the countries they have previously worked. Staff employed who are UK nationals should have the International Child Protection Certificate (ICPC) from ACRO. When hiring from overseas, applicants should be encouraged to secure their police check (or equivalent) before travelling as in many cases, checks can only be carried out while the applicant is in the same country.
  • Prohibition from teaching and other sanctions that may have been imposed (e.g.EEA sanctions list, section 128 check, GTCE sanction check, failed induction or probation check)
  • The visa details and/or evidence of the right to work in the country where the school is located.
  • Original copies of professional qualifications

International schools’ communities can include cleaners, kitchen staff, medical staff, gardeners, security guards, maintenance staff, teaching assistants, bus drivers, chaperones, and many others, all of which should undergo the safer recruitment process. This requires a wide range of criminal records and background checks from various and numerous sources. Many of these can be complex depending on the country and region.


Application Forms, Interviews, and References

The first step is to view a candidate's application form. It is always a good idea to question a variety of different roles within a short timeframe, keeping in mind that moving from job to job is quite common in the international school sector and may not indicate a concern – it may just be indicative of the sector. Similarly, if there are any unexplained gaps in employment this should also be explored at interviews and further information obtained.

Many first interviews for International Schools may be in a hotel room at a recruitment fair in a capital city somewhere around the globe, or even via a video link. In either case, the process is different from the experience of ‘normal’ face-to-face interviews and all the risks inherent in such procedures have to be considered and catered for. During the interview, international schools need to introduce the topic of child protection and ask complex and comprehensive safeguarding/child protection scenario-based questions to establish more about a candidate’s potential and relevant experience.

When requesting references for a candidate, these must be checked thoroughly. Sometimes a reference can be ambiguous with their wording, particularly if there was a concern but nothing conclusive emerged. There is a tendency and trend within some international schools to deal with a problem individual by letting them resign and become someone else’s problem. If it is at all unclear, then ensure you contact the referee directly.

One of the biggest challenges to safer recruitment in an international setting is the lack of take-up with references and referees being contacted. Referees are the people that the candidate is most confident will be positive about them. You should treat with caution any pre-prepared references or references that are not specifically addressed to your school that you receive and always contact the issuing school yourself directly. In addition, it is always good to follow up with a phone call to double-check the identity of the candidate in question, so that fraudulent candidates are not able to associate the positive recommendations of another teacher with themselves. This can be a possibility when teachers are moving between countries.



Best practice for Safer Recruitment

While the 3 stages to safer recruitment mentioned earlier are extremely important, there is a consensus amongst international education bodies that best practice is wider than just the 3 stages. Safer recruitment begins when you first start thinking about recruitment and it informs the job adverts that are written at the start of the recruitment process.

Here is an 8-step guide for recruiting staff supplied by the British Schools in the Middle East (BSME).

Step 1 - writing the job advertisement, ensuring you send clear signals about safeguarding to deter those who are not suitable to work with children and young people 

Step 2 - ID checks of applicants, photocopy of license or passport, etc.

Step 3 - CV/Application Form Review. Ensure the same standards are applied throughout the entire process, look for gaps in employment, names and address, contact authorities, x2/3 references, internet, and social media search. 

Step 4 - The Interview. Questions on child protection during the interview, allow applicants to expand on their answers, throw away comments that can reveal issues, all references received before the interview takes place, balanced interview panel formed, (male and female, wide age range, etc.). If any applicants do have criminal offences from a different country need to be checked.

Step 5 - Offer of employment.

Step 6 - The job offer.

Step 7 - Hired stage. Loading of candidates' details onto information/SCR system.

Step 8 - Upon Arrival in the Country, or before if appointed locally, further verification of identification, including checking original copies of passports and qualifications.

Step 9 - Induction, Observation, and Supervision. Including staff training. Take steps to address any concerns immediately and check to see if they have been met.

If you use an agency for recruitment, ensure they are providing you with the candidates' full employment history with no gaps and all relevant police checks are done.


In Summary

Although using a safer recruitment process gets you a long way towards helping to protect vulnerable people it can never guarantee child safety completely and should be seen as part of the wider safeguarding process

New risks crop up every day and a person with no history of abuse may suddenly abuse for the first time so ongoing vigilance is vital as well as creating a strong culture of safety throughout your school is the best insurance policy of all.

Posted Date

20th May 2021

Georgia Latief
Marketing Content Manager

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