Safer Recruitment in Schools and Academies

Sara Spinks 17 April 2023 7 min read
Safer Recruitment in Schools and Academies feature image

All educational settings have statutory safer recruitment responsibilities which must be fully met. In this article Sara Rawnsley sets out her top tips for best practice.

Safer recruitment statutory safeguarding provisions are set out in Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE) and have been extended to include post 16 education in line with the Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Act 2021.

For anyone working with children or vulnerable adults, the law requires the fulfilment of numerous duties to keep them safe. In particular, people who are barred from certain activities involving children and vulnerable adults must not work for your organisation. Working with children or vulnerable adults is classed as 'regulated activity'. (In an educational setting, 'regulated activity' is defined as teaching, training, instructing or supervising children if the person is unsupervised, or; providing advice or guidance on physical, emotional or educational wellbeing, or; driving a vehicle only for children, e.g. the school bus).

Key elements of safer recruitment practice

Safeguarding must be considered at every stage of the recruitment process; planning, advertising, interview and appointment. To do this, here are my top tips:

  • When writing the job description, ensure it includes the responsibility for safeguarding children;
  • Likewise, ensure the person specification includes reference to suitability to work with children;
  • Make sure the advert states that any successful candidate will be subjected to an enhanced DBS check;
  • Carefully select the panel for recruitment - decide who will shortlist and interview the applicants. The panel should:
    • consist of at least two people to decrease bias. It's also easier for one person to take notes while the other is asking questions;
    • include at least one person who has attended safer recruitment training within the last 5 years.
  • On receipt of applications, check the application form, including employment and / or experience history, and ensure that any gaps or anomalies are satisfactorily explained such as:
    • Unexplained gaps in employment;
    • Repeated or frequent job changes;
    • Anomalies or discrepancies in the information provided.

    Make a note of any gaps or anomalies that may need to be explored with the candidate at interview. Under KCSIE 2022, all applicants must complete an application form even if they submit their curriculum vitae.

  • When Shortlisting assess each application against the job's essential and desirable criteria. Use a short-listing grid to score and record assessments objectively and methodically. Using the grid enables a full picture of all the applicants and is more effective than making notes. It will also help for giving feedback and may be used to defend decisions if challenged. Identify applicants that meet the criteria to invite for interview and those that should be rejected.
  • Obtain references- ensure receipt of independent professional references, which should respond to and address your set specific questions. Make sure that if a person has worked in schools previously that the Headteacher is named as a reference. This is particularly important as, if there had been an issue, they may be the only person who knows or has details of it.
  • Invitations to interview should remind candidates to bring all relevant documents, such as last DBS record if they have one, qualification certificates, proof of identity and right to work in the UK. Only original documents can be accepted. If copies are provided at interview, the successful candidate must provide the originals before being confirmed in post. Take photocopies of documents and keep them on the personnel file of the successful candidate.

Preparing for the Face to face interview

Setting Interview Questions- It is important that questions enable the panel to assess the candidate's ability to meet the requirements of the role.

Assess the candidate's suitability to work with children, most especially in terms of safeguarding: their attitude to children, motivation, ability to form relationships, emotional resilience.

Do not compromise equality legislation e.g. It is generally well known that to question a female applicant on her intention to start a family is not good practice and any question that relates directly or indirectly to a protected characteristic should be avoided at interview.

Consider other selection methods to help make good recruitment decisions, rather than relying solely on the interview. Use exercises such as presentations, testing, meeting pupils/governors, delivering a lesson, preparing a lesson plan etc. It's essential for the panel to agree the purpose of a particular selection activity and what skills and competencies you are looking for.

Decide how to score candidates fairly. The assessment of all the selection activities should be collected on a structured assessment sheet such as a candidate assessment matrix. The candidate assessment matrix should be kept with a record of the interview sheets and application forms.

Successful candidates

When a successful candidate is decided upon- make a conditional offer of employment. Normally this is done verbally and then confirmed in writing. To comply with Keeping Children Safe in Education, all offers of employment must be conditional upon satisfactory completion of pre-employment checks.

Remember, even verbal offers are legally binding, so make sure to tell the candidate that the offer is conditional on satisfactory completion of all pre-employment checks including references, health and criminal record checking.

When making a conditional verbal offer, discuss:

  • a possible starting date (find out how much notice they need to give to their current employer);
  • starting salary;
  • when they can provide any missing information or documentation that they didn't bring to the interview, such as proof of identity, right to work, qualification certificates, etc.

But, how do we develop a coaching culture? Developing a coaching / high-performance culture is not a quick fix. It takes time and commitment, but the results are worth the effort and can become transformative, changing the language in a school to become more reflective and proactive.

Once a verbal offer has been made, follow up promptly with a conditional offer letter.

Pre-employment Checks

No-one should start work before all pre-employment checks are complete and must not start until at least their identity and right to work in the UK has been verified.

A candidate may start prior to the receipt of a DBS check, however they should not be left unsupervised and a risk assessment must be carried out, to consider the risks and to identify any measures that can be put in place to mitigate those risks.

Where the person is eligible to be checked against the Children's Barred List (or, exceptionally in Residential Special Schools, the Adults Barred List), they must not start work until this check has been carried out. This can be done pending receipt of the DBS check.

Pre-employment checks consist of:

Application form checks
A completed application form provides the school with the information they require in order to shortlist a person for interview and acts as an applicant's signed and dated declaration of their qualifications, skills and experience. Online forms should always be signed at interview. The form should show a complete employment history since the individual left full-time education and account for any gaps in employment. Applicants are also required to disclose details of any criminal convictions on the application form. A fully completed application form must be retained on the personnel file.
Identity checks
It is vital that educational settings are certain that the person they intend to employ is the person they claim to be and must see sufficient evidence to satisfy themselves of this. Photographic evidence that includes a date of birth e.g. passport or driving license is the most suitable form of identification. If these are not available you should ask to see at least three documents that show the individuals name and address and/or date of birth (e.g. utility bill, paper driving license, birth certificate). There is further guidance on identity checking. A copy of the documents should be kept on the employees file and details recorded on the Single Central record.

Right to work in the UK check

By law an employer must check all job applicants have the right to work in the UK before making a job offer. The Home Office Right to Work checklist should be used, which shows the acceptable documents to verify an individual's right to work.

You must:

  • View/see their original documents;
  • Check that the documents are valid;
  • Make and keep copies of the documents and record the date the check was made.

The Employer's Guide to Right to Work Checks sets out how to conduct either a manual document-based or an online right to work check.

You must ensure you carry out the correct right to work checks, otherwise you could face a civil penalty if you employ an illegal worker.

Children's Barred List check

To be eligible to request a check of the Children's Barred List, a person must be working in regulated activity. It's an offence to request a check of the barred lists for a role that is not eligible for one.

If the applicant is eligible for a Children's Barred List check, this should be requested when applying for an Enhanced DBS (criminal record) check. This can be done by selecting 'Children's Barred List check' when initiating an online DBS application

If, exceptionally, the setting needs the applicant to start work before the DBS disclosure has been received, a separate (standalone) check of the Children's Barred List should be requested only where eligibility to undertake the check has been determined by the setting. The applicant must be subject to supervision until the DBS disclosure is received.

DBS Checks

With effect from 17 June 2013, the DBS will only issue DBS certificates to the applicant. The employer will not receive a copy. The setting must ask the applicant to bring in their original disclosure certificate so that the relevant details can be recorded on the Single Central record.

Overseas Criminal Record check

These are required for roles that are eligible for DBS checks and where the individual has spent over three months abroad (in one country), within the last five years and they were over age 16. The individual is responsible for applying for this check. There is further information available on applying for criminal records checks for overseas applicants. Clearance issued before the individual came to the UK may be accepted.

Academic and Professional Qualifications

All educational settings must verify that a potential employee has achieved the qualifications that they claim in their application by viewing each original qualification or a properly certified copy of those documents

If a candidate achieved their qualifications overseas, the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC) should be contacted for confirmation of equivalence of qualifications obtained overseas.

For teachers, if an employer is in any doubt about the authenticity of a qualification, they can check Teacher Status Checks through the DfE sign in account.

Prohibition from management check - free schools and academies only. Section 128 Barring Direction:

The revised version of KCSIE advises independent schools, including academies and free schools, that individuals engaged in 'management roles' must be subject to an additional pre-employment check to make sure they are not prohibited from taking part in the management of the school.

A Section 128 Direction prohibits or restricts a person from taking part in the management of an independent school, including academies and free schools. A person who is prohibited is unable to participate in any management of this type of school.


It is important to ensure individuals are physically and mentally fit to do the job before a firm offer of employment (issued once all pre-employment checks are completed to a satisfactory standard) is made and they start work. This is established by:

  • Medical Check
  • References

Disqualification checks in relation to the Childcare act 2006

All staff who are employed to work in early years settings or who provide care in after schools clubs or breakfast clubs (including the manager or head teacher) for children under 8 must disclose anything that is a relevant offense (defined within the 2006 act) or must disclose where they live with someone who has a relevant offense as defined by 2006 childcare act.

Once the pre-employment checks are completed and are satisfactory a firm offer of employment can be made by promptly writing to the individual to let them know and confirm a firm offer. Their details should now be entered onto the Single Central Record.

Finally, the recruitment process ends with the retention of records. All paperwork gathered as part of the recruitment exercise must be kept confidentially for a period of 12 months after the interview date to ensure that if there are any claims raised, the setting can rely on its records to justify its judgement. This includes:

  • The advert
  • The job description/person specification or role profile
  • The candidate application pack
  • The completed application forms
  • Shortlisting notes and grid
  • Invite to interview letters
  • Interview notes
  • Notes of any feedback provided

As you will see, the safer recruitment process is multi-faceted and it is essential that all those involved with the process fully understand the statutory procedures.

Want to know more? Check out our Safer Recruitment training.

Sara Spinks

SSS Author & Former Headteacher

Related podcasts:

See all podcasts

Related courses:

See all courses

Related articles

Two teachers talking in a school classroom
What is Duty of Care?

by Sam Preston
SSS Learning Safeguarding Director

Early Career Teachers
Safeguarding for Early Career Teachers

by Sara Spinks
SSS Author & Former Headteacher

Safeguarding Top Tips for Governance
Essential tips for those in governance roles

by Sam Preston
SSS Learning Safeguarding Director

the Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) 2021 document on a desk
KCSIE 2021 - What’s new?

by Sam Preston
SSS Learning Safeguarding Director

child and adult in hospital
Reform of the Mental Health Act

by Sam Preston
SSS Learning Safeguarding Director