281. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties schools are experiencing owing to the deficiencies in the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 and Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016; if his attention has been further drawn to the practicalities of the employment of substitute special needs assistants in schools; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that these difficulties sometimes result in schools having no choice but to send pupils with special educational needs home due to the fact their welfare cannot be adequately protected; his plans with the Minister for Justice and Equality to address this legislative deficiency; the practical guidance he will provide to schools to address this issue pending the necessary amending legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 14111/18 asked on 27 Mar 2018)
Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): In April 2016, my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality commenced the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 to 2016 (the Vetting Act) which put in place statutory requirements for the Garda vetting of persons involved in working with children and vulnerable persons.
The Vetting Act applies not just to schools but to any relevant organisation that employs, contracts, permits or places a person in relevant work with children or vulnerable persons.
The vetting legislation and the vetting procedures operated by the National Vetting Bureau fall within the remit of the Minister for Justice and Equality. However, when the statutory vetting requirements were commenced my Department issued circular 0031/2016 which set out the statutory vetting requirements applicable to schools along with the practical arrangements in place to support the vetting procedures.
The circular outlines that the Vetting Act allows for some limited exemptions to the requirement under Section 12(1) of the Act to obtain a vetting disclosure from the National Vetting Bureau prior to commencing an employment, including in certain circumstances in the case of persons such as special needs assistants (SNA’s) undertaking recurring substitute employment in a particular school. The exemptions include-
- where a person was previously employed as a substitute by that same school authority prior to 29 April 2016.
- where a vetting disclosure from the Bureau was received by the school authority in respect of the person’s initial substitute employment, in such a case, there is no requirement for that school authority to obtain a further vetting disclosure from the Bureau in respect of that person prior to employing him or her in subsequent substitute positions.
Schools may also maintain a list of prospective substitute SNA employees and in doing so ensure that, as far as possible, a vetting disclosure is obtained at the point on which the person is being added to that list or as soon as possible thereafter (rather than waiting until when the person is about to commence his or her employment). In this way schools can ensure that the vetting disclosure has been obtained in sufficient time to allow that SNA to commence work in the school at short notice.