Friday, July 17, 2009

Me On TV Again

I was up at about 6 this morning so I could go on the telly again. Not my usual routine, especially when there's a Test Match on.

My appearance on BBC Breakfast seemed to go OK. It was all very quick again, but I hope in those few seconds I didn't offend anybody too much. My stance is still that I'm more than happy to be vetted in order to carry on visiting schools. Interesting feedback from various people.

Some seem to be bristling about the cost. I expect most authors will probably split the cost (£64) and spread it across several schools. I think if I spread it over the events I've got coming up in the next 12 months it'll work out at about £2 per school. (Obviously this method doesn't help people like dinner ladies or low paid workers who can't name their own fee, but I'm not claiming to comment for them. I'm just responding to the fuss that a few 'esteemed' authors have kicked up.)

A few times I've heard the 'Where will it end?' argument, otherwise known as 'the thin end of the wedge'. This goes, roughly, something like this: we shouldn't have to vet authors, because that implies we should have to vet everybody who works with children, or even lives near children, or has children, or can spell 'children'.

Well, I like 'wedge' arguments. Usually a good response is simply to say that the first thing does not imply the second. Or, if it does, quite often the second thing is also a good thing to be doing, so the implication means we should do the first thing, then look into doing the second as well. It's a mixture of both in this case:

Yes, it does imply that we should vet everybody who works with children. That's a good thing. It's the point of the scheme.

No, it does not imply that we should be paranoid about everybody who lives anywhere near a school (though now I think about it, what's wrong with a bit of healthy caution?).

The strangest argument is the one I've heard from Messrs Morpurgo and Pullman - that vetting authors destroys the trust between author and young reader.

Is that so different from the trust between pupil and teacher, fan and popstar or, dare I say it, child and school caretaker? Well, I suppose it is different from the pupil/teacher relationship because a reader's trust in the author isn't borne out of getting to know the person, it's a judgement of character based on the author's work. Lovely that that trust exists. But surely it's all the more reason to vet the author - let's make sure the trust can't be abused. (Barry Hutchison put this very well in a comment over at

And will vetting the author really threaten that trust? I struggle to see how. Vetting will be a process between the author and the Independent Safeguarding Authority. The teacher organising the visit might get involved to check that the author is ISA registered, but it doesn't need to go beyond that, does it?

To be honest, most kids probably assume that everybody working with them has been checked out anyway. They're not idiots. A lot of them might be surprised to find out that children's authors have been allowed to go into schools for so long without being vetted.

The biggest shame is to hear that these few authors are going to be boycotting schools. Get over yourselves. Get registered and get on with inspiring kids to love reading and writing. It's a fun job.


MGHarris said...

Joe - I think you're spot on that most kids will assume that authors have been checked all along. They, unlike the authors who taking offense, have for years lived in a world of 'child protection issues'.

Mark Robson said...

Totally agree. It's a hoop to jump through. If it were just authors who were being singled out, I might feel differently, but it's not. Of course we should have to go through the vetting process like everyone else.

NutmegAngel said...

I had to get a CRB check in order to volunteer in an old people's home, and it seems pretty normal to expect that people who work with children are checked out. And are most people ever actually going to realise that authors have been checked? It never crossed my mind, and it's not like the school's going to announce it...

Anonymous said...

I think MG Harris is way off the mark by saying that kids will assume authors have been checked...surely such a thought wouldn't and more importantly shouldn't even enter a kid's head. Adults should be concerned with protecting kids not only from abuse but from the worry of it too.

Racheya said...

Having only just left Secondary school myself - I have to agree with you Joe. I'm rather surprised that authors haven't been checked before now. Kids are USED to being told 'OMG THERES PEDOS EVERYWHERE!! IF YOU TALK TO ANYBODY AT ALL THEY WILL KILL YOU!!' Heck, like you said the kids won't even know that all the checks all going on.

As for the cost - if you're going to schools regularly it's not that much of a thing really.

Michael said...

It does seem that reactions to this differ somewhat according to age. Younger people seem less inclined to be wary of the somewhat Stalinist implications of being obliged to have clearance formally bureaucratised by inclusion on a register.
Has anyone explained why the cost-free CRB check would not be sufficient for authors?
I can see where both sides are coming from on this one...

Michael said...

btw Michael = achuka