You can't tell by looking
by Fiona Rogers

You can't tell by looking if one of your employees or volunteers is a risk to children. Yet this could be the case.


This hard-hitting message appears on publicity material for the International Child Protection Certificate (ICPC), a joint initiative between ACRO Criminal Records Office and the National Crime Agency, and underscores the importance of strong, safe recruitment practices in all international schools.


Safer recruitment can present a particular challenge for the international school sector. This is evident in the fact that teaching staff come from a range of nationalities, and they may have an employment history that stretches across various countries or continents. There are also issues around the availability of police checks and pre-employment checks, which can vary significantly from country to country.


The need for robust policies

These challenges, compounded by the fact that schools within the international sector have sometimes been perceived as a soft target by individuals who should not be working with children, means it is vitally important for schools to have robust recruitment policies and vetting processes in place.


While the standard of safer recruitment practices in international schools may not, historically, have been consistent across the whole sector, things have come a long way. Associations such as the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) and Council of International Schools (CIS), which require member schools to meet rigorous safeguarding standards, are working to promote best practice and help both parents and teachers make safe choices.


It is not possible to eliminate risk entirely, but the international education sector is working hard to reduce the risk to children and young people worldwide.


The International Task Force on Child Protection

The International Task Force on Child Protection (ITFCP) was set up in 2014 to help international school communities to address child protection challenges. Founding members included COBIS, CIS, ECIS, AISH, and AAIE.


The task force now includes leaders of international education organisations, school leaders, counsellors and teachers, who are working collaboratively across professions with law enforcement officials and the medical community. Following a year-long pilot with 75 schools globally, the ITFCP issued some helpful guidance on essential recruitment practices, which can be found on the ICMEC Education Portal at


Pre-employment checks

The right pre-employment and/or police checks to use will depend on an employee's nationality and where they have previously lived or worked. All teachers working internationally should be encouraged to obtain police clearance checks from countries where they have lived or worked to ensure employers have access to accurate and relevant information.


In the past, international schools have been able to access DBS checks (UK Disclosure and Barring Service checks – formerly CRB checks) for staff who have ever lived in the UK, but this is no longer the case, except where recruitment decisions are made in the UK. This change in practice came about in 2018 following a review of existing legislation by the UK Home Office. Similarly, Barred List checks (formerly List 99) are only available for those who have applied and are waiting for an Enhanced DBS check.


Therefore, with the cessation of international DBS access, Barred List checks are also not available for international schools. This position has recently been clarified by the DBS, and it is working to update inspectorates and agencies that may still be requiring or offering these checks.



While this move from the UK Home Office may seem like a backwards step when it comes to safeguarding children and young people worldwide, there are fortunately a number of comprehensive alternative checks available to international schools, including Prohibition Checks (available via COBIS) and the ICPC, which is available via ACRO Criminal Records Office.


The ICPC is a criminal records check for anyone who has ever lived or worked in the UK and is seeking to work with children overseas. The ICPC provides information concerning conviction and non-conviction data – including current investigations and impending prosecutions – and benefits from a number of built-in security features.


Earlier this year, COBIS and ACRO announced a collaboration to encourage more international schools to access the ICPC. Reflecting on the partnership, COBIS CEO Colin Bell said: “COBIS is committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, young people and adults, and we are pleased to be able to work with ACRO as Global ICPC Ambassador to encourage all international schools to follow best practice in safer recruitment. The ICPC is an invaluable resource for schools looking to safeguarding the children and young people in their care.” 


Tom Mason, Senior Manager at ACRO, said: “The ultimate aim is to ensure children and young adults in international schools are protected against individuals seeking to gain access to children through employment or voluntary roles for the purposes of harming them. We want the ICPC to become an integral part of the future of safer recruitment and the safeguarding of children within international schools around the world.”


Top tips for student safeguarding

  • Include a statement about the school’s commitment to safeguarding on all job descriptions and job adverts

  • Use an application form rather than accepting CVs to help highlight any employment gaps

  • Always collect references, at least one of which should be from the Head of the most recent school

  • Always follow up professional references with a phone call (or similar)

  • Require all applicants to complete or provide appropriate pre-employment checks (e.g., prohibition checks, ICPC, local police checks)

  • If using an agency for recruitment, ensure they are providing candidates with a full employment history (no gaps) and all relevant police checks

  • Examine your school policy around safer recruitment and the regularity of vetting eligible employees and volunteers

  • While it can be difficult to fill an unexpected staffing gap, do not compromise safeguarding standards by appointing someone without suitable checks

Dr Fiona Rogers is Deputy CEO and Director of Professional Development and Research at

COBIS. You can connect with her directly at

Relevant links:


Prohibition Order Checks:

ICMEC Education Portal:

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