Children's authors to take sex offender test

Josie Hinton SCHOOLS in Hampstead and Highgate have hit back at draconian legislation which will stop authors giving talks to pupils in case they pose a danger to children. Some of Britain s leading children s authors have said they will boycott schools

Josie Hinton

SCHOOLS in Hampstead and Highgate have hit back at "draconian" legislation which will stop authors giving talks to pupils in case they pose a danger to children.

Some of Britain's leading children's authors have said they will boycott schools from the start of the new school term because of a policy requiring them to undergo criminal background checks to prove they aren't sex offenders.

The legislation - which requires authors to pay �64 and register on a national database before coming into contact with pupils - is intended to protect children from paedophiles.

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But teachers and school governors have spoken out against the scheme, which they say will deny children valuable interaction with their favourite writers.

Other community leaders who make regular visits to schools such as priests and firemen will also have to meet the conditions.

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Kevin Douglas, headteacher of University College School (UCS) junior branch, said: "We have authors in all the time and the children really love it. It would be a real shame to lose that. You've got to ask if it's really necessary. I think it's a bit over the top."

Ed Fordham, a governor of Hampstead School and a trustee of UCS, said: "I think it's a real shame and society may look back on this and think it is draconian. It's the march of the health and safety brigade."

The laws, which will come into effect in October, were drafted in response to the inquiry into the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002 by school caretaker Ian Huntley. But the move has been branded as insulting by several respected authors and illustrators who have vowed to stop making these visits if the government goes ahead.

Michael Morpurgo, former Children's Laureate and Hampstead resident, described the new policy as "a nonsense".

"It's one step too far," he said. "An author is never alone with children. This kind of policy brings suspicion into everyone's minds. It's not how we should be bringing our children up."

Michael Rosen, who held the position of Children's Laureate until June this year, has worked closely with Haverstock School in Camden on several events. His son Eddie was a pupil at the Chalk Farm school before he died of Meningitis at the age of 18.

He said: "I've got no objection to being checked, but it's just another piece of policy designed to sound good to voters but actually doesn't do the job it is supposed to do."

But Joe Craig, a children's author from Tufnell Park who is appearing at the Ham&High literary festival next month, supports the measures.

"The objections put forward by some authors are oversensitive, and for authors to start whinging about it shows us in a bad light," he said. "Everyone else who goes into a school has to be cleared and I don't see why authors should be any different."

A Home Office spokesman said: "The UK already has one of the most advanced systems for carrying out checks on all those who work in positions of trust with children and vulnerable adults. From October this year the new Vetting and Barring Scheme will ensure these regulations are even more rigorous.

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