Why aren't private tutors required to have compulsory background checks to safeguard the young people they are working with?
One Saturday in 2014, I received a telephone call from a police officer who asked me whether I was the owner of the number.
He said: “I am a police officer investigating a crime connected to an individual who has your number in his phone, do you know them?” I replied: “Yes, I do, they are my children’s private tutor and come to my house once a week.”
At this point, my blood ran cold and questions flew around my head like a swarm of bees. What had this person done and why was the police calling me? The officer went on to explain that the tutor had been arrested for sexually abusing one of their tutees and that they needed to check whether there were any other victims.
My first reaction was a sickening feeling in the stomach and a belief that it couldn’t possibly happen to my kids, that they were fine. They were seven and nine-years-old. I felt as if I had been a bad parent, guilty for exposing my kids to this tutor. Even though they were unhurt, what could I do to fix it?
I came to the conclusion that I should never have relied so much on a personal recommendation and I should have done more research. I should have asked more questions, I should have been better informed, I should have asked for a DBS check – and this is where the huge problem lies.
A DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check brings to attention any details of both spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and warnings that are held on the Police National Computer.
Legally, if someone wants to work in a school, DBS verification is compulsory. But, incredibly, the private tuition space has no DBS regulation at all. It is left completely up to a parent to find out if a tutor is acceptable without any resources to help them make the best decision.
Many private tutors, who may also be school teachers, have a DBS check, however, many do not and, if they have been rejected in the classroom, they can openly work with kids in a private setting. This is the loophole that must be closed.
As a result, I started working on designing an online only tuition platform called Scholar Hub, allowing parents an informed choice of tutors. I wanted all educators of children under 16 to be either DBS checked or have enhanced, digital background checks as a strict policy.
However, many parents still rely on finding a local teacher for academic, musical or sports tuition – and there is no legal requirement on the thousands of self-employed private tutors in the UK to undergo a criminal record check which would reveal details of any child sex offences. This is in stark contrast to jobs such as accountants, vets and even traffic wardens, whose work does not directly involve children.
According to the Office for National Statistics, in the year ending March 2019, the police in England and Wales recorded 73,260 sexual offences where the victims were identified as children. This is a rise of 15% on the previous year. Sexual abuse has also become the most common type of abuse counselled by Childline in recent years and the most commonly reported type of abuse by adults calling the National Association for People Abused in Childhood’ helpline in the year ending March 2019. The abuse was most likely to have been perpetrated by a friend or acquaintance (37% of all cases).
This is why it is imperative that child tutoring is regulated by the Government and a loophole, that could leave thousands of privately-taught children at risk of harm, closed. It should be compulsory that anyone who teaches a child and has regular one-on-one lessons with that child must be background checked by law.
Should it not be up to the Government to regulate this space as it is in the national interest for child safety?
Tanvir Malik Mukhtar is the director of Scholar Hub