There’s controversy going the rounds at the moment over authors and illustrators visiting schools in England being required to register on a child protection database. Some, such as Michael Morpurgo and Philip Pullman object to the new requirement. I don’t think we in Scotland are going to go down that route, but it did get me thinking about the subject. I work with children quite often in schools and other settings (museums, gardens etc), and I’m required to have a ‘Disclosure Scotland’ certificate to do this work. It means that the Scottish Criminal Records Bureau have done a search on me, and are satisfied that I pose no risk to children. I could have told them that, but it’s an external verification, if you like. The certificate comes in two flavours, Standard and Enhanced, and mine is the latter, but to be honest I can’t remember the difference.
The big name authors say that they give talks to classes of 30 or so, and maybe assemblies of a couple of hundred at a time, and that there’s always at least one teacher present at all times. My visits are usually writing workshops, and although there’s always a teacher in attendance, I’m often working on a one-to-one basis with individual pupils. I can see the need for writers in my situation to be vetted, and I don’t object to it at all. It’s a professional overhead, along with the need to have public liability insurance as a tutor.
I’ve learned the do’s and don’ts by experience, not being a trained teacher, and I’ve often thought that writers’ organisations, like the Scottish Book Trust here, should offer basic training in classroom interactions with children and teachers. It would help all sides to get more out of the experience.