10th September 2008 For Immediate Use
Police Vetting Measures Could Compromise Community Involvement
The education sector union NZEI Te Riu Roa is concerned that measures introduced to parliament yesterday regarding police vetting, could seriously impact on community and family involvement in schools and centres.
The Education Amendment Bill proposes police vetting of all people who have unsupervised access to children during the opening hours of early childhood centres and schools.
NZEI says that could include parents, grandparents or any adult who helps with a sports team at lunchtime, comes in and listens to an individual child’s reading, or helps during a gardening or clean up project.
NZEI strongly supports the Ministry of Education’s goal to ensure that all students are safe. However it says a balance must be found between the practical concerns for child safety and the community partnership which is actively promoted within New Zealand’s education system.
NZEI National President Frances Nelson says “New Zealand schools and centres take pride in the high level of interaction with their communities and it helps enrich a child’s learning environment – that will be compromised if such blanket vetting measures are put in place. We don’t want the net that goes out to become a noose which will then be likely to push people away.”
Of the 35,000 non teacher police vets requested between 2004-6, seven people were identified as “sensitive” or with “red stamps”. That indicates that the use of non teacher police vetting is not identifying a significant number of adults whose past criminal record is of concern in an educational context.
Frances Nelson says that raises the question of whether the positives outweigh the negatives in the way this piece of legislation will work.
“Systems to check and to monitor who is defined as a ‘volunteer’ and who has clearance for ‘unsupervised access’ will need to be established, implemented, and constantly updated,” says Ms Nelson.
NZEI would be alarmed if it was presumed that all adults must be police vetted, as it would have a significant impact on the community’s involvement in education. Police vetting is only one tool in a range of strategies which schools and centres must use to ensure student safety. It is not the ultimate defence.
On a positive note, the sector will be pleased that common sense has prevailed in enabling direct access to the police for vetting purposes and the ability for contractors to have one police vet that enables them to work across sites.