Authors boycott schools over sex-offence register

A group of respected British children's authors and illustrators will stop visiting schools from the start of the next academic year, in protest at a new government scheme that requires them to register on a database in case they pose a danger to children.

Philip Pullman, Anne Fine, Anthony Horowitz, Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake all told The Independent that they object to having their names on the database – which is intended to protect children from paedophiles – and would not be visiting any schools as a consequence.

Pullman, author of the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, described the Home Office policy as "corrosive and poisonous to every kind of healthy social interaction". He said: "I've been going into schools as an author for 20 years, and on no occasion have I ever been alone with a child. The idea that I have become more of a threat and I need to be vetted is both ludicrous and insulting. Children have never been in any danger from visiting authors or illustrators, and the idea that they should be is preposterous.

"This reinforces the culture of suspicion, fear and mistrust that underlies a great deal of present-day society. It teaches children that they should regard every adult as a potential murderer or rapist."

The Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) is being managed by the Independent Safeguarding Authority, set up after the 2002 murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells by Ian Huntley, a janitor at their school. All individuals who work with children from 12 October will be required to register with a national database for a fee of £64. The former Children's Laureate Anne Fine, the author of more than 50 books, said the scheme was "governmental idiocy" which would drive a wedge between children and adults.

"When it [the VBS] becomes essential, I shall continue to work only in foreign schools, where sanity prevails," she said. "The whole idea of vetting an adult who visits many schools, but each only for a day, and then always in the presence of other adults, is deeply offensive.

"Our children will become further impoverished by this tiresome and ill-considered scheme, and yet another gulf will be created between young people and the rest of society." Michael Morpurgo, another former Children's Laureate whose recent successes include the play War Horse, said the compulsory database of school visitors was "a nonsense" which would put writers off visiting pupils. "It's yet another example of the Government going way over the top," he said. "Writers don't go to schools for the money, they do it because they want to bring their stories to children and make readers of them.

"The notion that I should somehow have got myself tested or passed in order to do this is absurd. I know there has to be security in schools, and that's fine, but this is insulting and doesn't go any way to protecting children."

Anthony Horowitz, the author of the popular Alex Rider series of children's spy novels, said the £64 fee had "a nasty feeling of a stealth tax about it", and that, like Pullman and the others, the introduction of the database marked "the end of school visits" for him.

"Like so many of Labour's laws, it's just an ill-thought-out by-product of a general law to stop suspect people going into schools. And yet the Government doesn't seem to have either the courage or the sense to realise that they've got to make an exception here.

"A child who admires a writer has a great belief in that writer as a good human being. If you say that, actually, the guy who's writing this book could be a sick pervert and we've got to protect you from him, I think you're not exactly sending out the most positive message."

He added that the timing of the scheme was particularly baffling, as last year was the National Year of Reading, during which the Government heavily promoted the practice of authors visiting schools.

Quentin Blake, who rose to fame as Roald Dahl's illustrator and became the first ever Children's Laureate in 1999, said the Government was guilty of "grotesque misunderstanding" about what happens on school visits, and that he would refuse to pay the registration fee if he was asked.

"A lot of these people are asked to visit schools because they are known already," he said. "You don't ask Philip Pullman or Michael Morpurgo because you don't know who they are, and you don't go to the trouble of being the Children's Laureate to pay £64 to have permission to talk to children. That is bizarre."

A spokesman from the Home Office said: "The UK already has one of the most advanced systems in the world 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 (VBS) will ensure these regulations are even more rigorous.

"The new scheme means every individual working in a field that requires more than a tiny amount of contact with children and/or vulnerable adults will have to be vetted. If they are passed, they will be placed on a register that says they are allowed to work in a regulated field. If they are barred, they will go on a separate register and it will be a criminal offence for them to try and obtain work in a regulated field, carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison. It will also be illegal for anyone to employ them."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Administration Assistant / Apprenticeship Industry

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity for an e...

Recruitment Genius: NVQ Assessor

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Private Training Provider off...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders