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Safer Recruitment and SCR – The Elephant in the Room.

10k Schools

Author: 10k Schools

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Lets pull no punches from the start here.

In 2004, Carol Shakeshaft’s seminal study into the prevalence of educator sexual misconduct, put the percentage of students exiting the US K-12 system having been a victim of unwanted sexual contact by a school employee, at 9.6%.

In 2023, this was recently followed up by Jeglic et al (1) where research across over 6000 graduates from US high schools found that the percentage of children experiencing educator sexual misconduct was 11.7%

So across two studies roughly 20 years apart, we’ve seen approximately 1 in 10 children fall victim to this heinous crime.

Now lets make this personal
Take our your child’s most recent class photo. Assuming a class of 30, statistically we know that 3 children in the class are likely to experience educator sexual misconduct in their school career?

We can be even more specific………studies persistently show that around 75% of victims are girls. So in a class with 50/50 gender distribution, we actually can extrapolate that of 15 girls, 2 (or 1 in 7.5) will be the likely victims.

What’s even more chilling, is that we can probably predict which children will be targeted, as those who reported sexual misconduct showed significantly more psychosocial difficulties than those who didn’t report abuse.

So let’s zoom out a little bit……………across a whole school photo of 1000 children – we can confidently predict that 100 children will be affected.

How widespread this abuse is, and how consistent the statistics are, makes it statistically unlikely that this is NOT happening in every school to some extent.

So, Why is Safer Recruitment a Problem?
The same studies find that reporting of school employee sexual misconduct was low (4%) – and herein lies the problem – because this conduct is hardly ever reported, school leaders don’t seem to consider this abuse as being perpetrated on industrial scale, but as something that happens in other schools, not mine!

In many jurisdictions, the term ‘Safer Recruitment’ has anchored the development of robust working practice and policy in schools, whilst organisations following these practices have undoubtedly prevented many unsuitable individuals managing to gain employment in settings where they could access children and vulnerable people.

But we also know that those intent on predating on vulnerable populations will just move on to the next setting, and the next, and the next, until they find the inevitable gaps in due dilgence which allow them through the door.

In almost every case that has reached the public domain where a child has been harmed in a school setting by a school employee, the subsequent inquiry identifies lapses in following established background checking protocols, or even that the statutory guidance itself is insufficiently robust. 


The stark reality in every country, is that no matter how much guidance is issued on the topic of Child Protection and Safer Recruitment, the problems and prosecutions keep on coming at an alarming rate.

We recognise the work of those who contributed to the UK Department for Education’s guidance, contributors to the International Task Force on Child Protection, and those who have contributed around the world to raising the awareness of risk in the hiring process for organisations where employees would have unfettered access to children and vulnerable people.

But the elephant in the room that we all surely by now have to acknowledge after decades of regulatory failure, is that Safer Recruitment as a concept, is dangerously flawed.

Here are some fundamental issues:

  1. Thousands of international schools follow the guidance established by the International Task Force on Child Protection, to obtain references covering the last 6 years. Yet we know that victims of child sexual abuse typically report the crimes between 6 and 18 years after the offences were committed.

  2. Therefore it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that the last 6 years references, are statistically far less likely to yield an adverse safeguarding declaration, than if we collected references for years 6+.

  3. What about employees who have been in your school with an exemplary record for the last 5 years, was convicted in absentia overseas, or a safeguarding issue arose in a previous school since you took a reference?

  4. You’d never know, because legacy guidance doesn’t mandate or even suggest that periodically repeating criminal record checks and safeguarding declarations might be a good idea.


These gaps exist, because until now, legacy standards are purposely designed to be diluted down to what is considered reasonable to ask of school administration – in this regard, education is light years behind the regulation of other sectors, where protection of stakeholders comes first, last, and everything in between with no compromises.

Why Does Education Not Learn and Evolve?
Inspection regimes and standards handed down by trusted bodies such as regulators, set requirements for background checking in education astonishingly low.

Whilst we can all agree that no approach is ever going to be perfect, the very premise by which protocols and guidance are developed, executed and quality assured, are all predicated on methods of work that have been consigned to the past in every progressive industry.

Modern compliance process design in every other industry, is centred on a fundamental design principal that humans are inherently fallible. People should be designed out of predictable, repetetive, rules-based processes to reduce the risk of failure.

People should only be involved in a compliance process when a subjective/judgement decision is required (eg, based on everything I now know, should I hire this person?)

Yet in education today, and particularly safer recruitment, the sector continues to push solutions to administration problems through creation of policy which extends, rather than reduces reliance on human vigilance.

If we look at the UK example of Financial Services regulation, the concept of automated, continuous evaluation of those in controlled functions, reflects that at any time before or during employment, critical new information may emerge about an individual’s continued suitability to work in a controlled environment.

In mirroring the approach to controlled function monitoring by the UK Financial Conduct Authority, could education not addresses a huge defect in legacy guidance for Safer Recruitment and the Single Central Register, which are unfit for purpose in the complex international schools environment.

Knowing what you know now about the prevalence of predatory behaviour amongst school employees, how confident are you as a Principal, DSL or Head of HR, that you really, truly, know your people to the extent required to keep children safe in education?


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