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“You may be the children’s laureate, Sir, but it’s more than my jobs worth…”

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Piece in the Independent today about major children’s authors being required to sign up to a database before being allowed to visit a school. The ‘Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS)’ has been created to ensure that no paedophiles can ever enter a school ever again ever. At all. Because they’ll have to register on a database, you see. And pay a fee. So that’s going to put them off straight away.

It’s difficult to work out what is more offensive about this scheme, the idea that people like Quentin Blake should be vetted, the sheer brain-rotting, dull-witted stupidity of the idea, or the obviously venal charge of £64. All that will happen – all that is happening already – is that people won’t bother. I occasionally go into schools to do talks, but I’m not going to pay £64 for the privilege. And I object to the default position being ‘all adults (males) are a threat’.

Apart from being designed by people with the average intelligence of a sea cucumber, this demonstrates that public policy in this country is goverened almost solely by the fear of being blamed for anything. Fuelled by a media who love nothing more than a feeding frenzy, the idea is to ensure that whatever happens, no-one can say it was our fault. The result is we stop doing anything because we don’t want to risk getting into trouble.

And, because every policy decision is taken with one eye on the newspaper headlines, nothing is seriously thought-through. No one considers the consequences. The result of this legislation will not be increased safety but decreased learning; it won’t keep paedophiles out, but it will stop authors, experts, painters, and maybe even politicians, from visiting schools.

What is equally disturbing is the terms which are being used. According to the report in the Telegraph:

A Home Office spokesman said that everybody whose work brought them into “more than a tiny amount of contact with children” or vulnerable adults would have to be vetted.

Vetted. Approved. Passed safe. What, I wonder, are the crietria for vetting someone? Political views? Gossip and innuendo? Lack of party membership? The fact that they like to visit the park and Mrs Henderson at number 34 said they walk funny?

This is the real danger. You start with well-meaning, albeit fundamentally imbecilic, laws. And sooner or later those laws get used for purposes you never intended. The problem with bureacrats is that they lack imagination. They need to talk to some people with imagination, people like, children’s authors. Oh no, hang on, we can’t let them into the building, they haven’t been vetted…