Getting vetted for school visits
It has just occurred to me that if Philip Pullman needs official vetting to do his school visits, then so do I. I do more than 12 school lectures and talks a year -- and this appears to bring me within the terms of the ghastly "Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups" Act (explained in a relatively user-friendly way here). Though, as I talk at schools for free, I assume that I count as a volunteer and so will not have to pay the £64 fee. Are these best-selling authors really charging struggling under-funded state schools for their appearances -- I hope not.
But, in general, I am absolutely behind Pullman and the others (despite the slight sense that comes across in some of the reports that these writers think that the laws that apply to the rest of us don't really apply to our more creative brethren).
For a start the act is a terrible knee-jerk response to the Soham murders, riding the waves of the mass terror of paedophilia. It goes without saying that the harm of children is a dreadful thing -- but in 300 years time there will be doctoral theses being written about our obsession with it, much as today's graduates write on seventeenth-century witch hunts.
There is something dreadful about the name of the Act anyway. It seems to imply that if you are against it, you really don't care about Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups. A better title would be "Mass compulsory registration and tracking of all those working with the under 18s". Act. Because it is simply the "throw a database at it" solution to the problem -- in this case one which will include well over 20% of the UK population (minus Scotland where it doesn't apply). That would not be an insignificant step on the way to the government's desire to have us all registered, tracked and coded, in case we might commit a crime some time in the future.
Except, of course, it will presumably be as inefficient as all such databases are (and so won't actually stop the next Ian Huntley anyway -- for that, a completely different approach would be needed).
I have another, personal, grouse though.
We dons are always being encouraged to leave the dreaming spires and get out into schools -- partly to dispel the old myths about Oxbridge academics being remote characters or Oxbridge being only for the rich. And a jolly good thing it is.
For me, what this Act does is put a barrier in the way of doing that. In order to be a regular school speaker, I have first to parade myself as a potential danger to the vulnerable -- and then be given a clean bill of health.
I am a 54 year-old married woman with two children, and I am mostly talking to kids in their mid teens. What possible point does this vetting serve?The only danger I might pose to the kids is in what I SAY (Classics being a notoriously subversive subject, of course).
But I suppose the state might soon get onto policing that too.