New legislation toughening up the staff vetting procedure for those working with children is causing confusion for school caterers, industry figures have warned.
The Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable Adults Act, which came into effect last month, means that employees and volunteers working in schools are now required to take an "enhanced" Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check.
The law also means that, as of next November, employees and volunteers working in schools must register with the new Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), where they will be assessed using data gathered by the CRB.
Only ISA-approved persons will be able to undertake regulated activity, involving "frequent or intensive contact" with children. Employers that employ an unregistered person could be imprisoned or fined up to £5,000.
But industry figures have warned that there are several grey areas around the new legislation.
"Those who come into contact with children as part of their work do need to be checked, but a supplier that simply drops off some boxes does not," she said. "However, if that supplier comes into the school to give a talk to the children they would need to be checked."
Gordon Haggarty, managing director of Accent Catering, stressed that all staff on Accent contracts are fully checked, but warned against legislation going too far.
"If you take a step back, dinner ladies are not unsupervised with children and some schools take the view that they are not working (directly) with children at all," he said.
But Lin O'Brien, head of catering at Hertfordshire County Council, said local authorities have to be as vigilant as possible.
"While it slows the recruitment process, all of our 1,500 staff everyone who visits a school in whatever capacity will have been CRB checked," she said. "Despite the extra costs, it's worth the reassurance."
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By Janie Stamford
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