The process of carrying out criminal record checks is an accepted part of the job application process for much of the UK’s workforce. However, for students, this is not necessarily something they may have considered; if anything, as recipients of teaching, a student might reasonably expect that their tutors would have undergone such checks. However, with an expanding higher education (HE) sector leading to ever more study options, many HE courses themselves now entail the student requiring their own background check before taking up a course or module. As with all other members of society, however, the process is tightly regulated, and designed to be both transparent and fair.
The DBS Process
Criminal record checks are carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), which is provided by the UK government’s Home Office; the process, however, is still sometimes referred to as criminal records bureau (CRB) checking, which the DBS replaced. Checks can apply to any applicant for a paid job, voluntary position or student placement if the individual concerned is 16 years or over. The DBS checking regime consists of basic, standard and enhanced checks, with further possible checks relating to the latter. As the vast majority of HE students are over 16, this in theory could apply to any of them.
Students could well be introduced to the DBS process due to non-educational activities. As many of those on HE courses work to support themselves during their courses, they may be asked to provide a basic DBS check. Employers do not have to give a reason why they require such a check, but often do so. Even bar or waiting staff may be asked for a basic check, as a matter of best practice. These checks are usually returned within 24 hours, and disclose only unspent convictions.
Higher Level Checks
Above the basic level, DBS checks are classified as Standard and Enhanced. Any such check will show all convictions (unspent as well as spent), as well as any cautions, reprimands and final warnings, as held on the Police National Computer (PNC). Standard and enhanced checks have to be requested by an employing body, voluntary organization, or, in the case of students, educational establishment. As such, they can only be put forward for a specific list of roles, which require regulated activities as part of their job description, carried out on a regular basis.
Enhanced checks will also prompt police services to add any details relating to convictions which they deem relevant to the position being applied for. On top of that, roles which require regular contact with children or vulnerable adults can mean the DBS accessing the children’s or adult’s barred lists. Any individual whose name appears on either of these lists is automatically barred from specific roles involving the relevant group.
Higher education courses which will require enhanced DBS checks include those for child care, health care, education, and sports coaching. Even then, the actual role/s involved in taking these courses will determine whether a barred list needs to be accessed. Rules applying to this include the frequency of contact; i.e. how often the student comes into contact with the subject in question. If this is less than a prescribed amount, the task in question will not qualify as a regulated activity.
Many students do voluntary work. Again, this may entail an enhanced DBS check, but it may not. In the case of voluntary activity, the rules become slightly more complicated again. This is largely because volunteers’ DBS checks do not have to be paid for. However, this means that the activity in question does not bring the student any financial benefit (other than pre-agreed out of pocket expenses), is not part of a work placement or a training course which leads to full time work, nor is part of a foster care household.
This being the case, most voluntary activities carried out by students still require a paid DBS check if one is applicable. The exceptions are if the voluntary role/s are carried out for charities or educational institutions which are not part of the student’s actual course of study. It is likely, therefore, that almost any educational placement or voluntary work a student does which qualifies for an enhanced DBS check will be treated like that of all other job applicants.