Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Authors visiting schools

Chris Priestley raises issues in his blog about the new Independent Safeguarding Scheme and its application to children's authors visiting schools. As he says, we discussed it during a very enjoyable lunch, and I've been thinking about it since.

Everyone else who works in schools has to be checked, so why should authors be immune? Are they different in some mysterious way from other humans? We all know that most abuse of children takes place in the home and that therefore all the vast apparatus of CRB checking which already goes on is only going to stop a small proportion of this abuse, but I think we've accepted that such procedures are really the only way of preventing a repeat of an event like the Soham murders.

I know that writers are seldom alone with children on school visits. I know the chances of anything bad happening are small. But I think we should remember the case of William Mayne, one of the greatest children's writers of the twentieth century who thought it was OK to have his young fans to stay and romp naked with them in his garden. I'm surprised that no one seems to have mentioned him in this latest furore. I'm sure nothing untoward happened during school visits, and I know he had no record then which would have shown up on the new vetting - but he does now.

Like Philip Pullman, I am concerned at the steady increase in the monitoring of every aspect of our lives - the loyalty cards, the nunberplate recognition cameras, the databases - but I think that on this one authors should accept that they should put up with a little inconvenience for the sake of the children. If you think school visits are valuable and important, then keep visiting those children, because it's for them that we do all this writing and visiting and talking. Why make them pay the price of our indignation?

Anthony Browne puts it well in this piece from the Guardian, and if you didn't know about William Mayne there's another piece in the Guardian here. I've posted thoughts on school visits before, so take a look. We're off to France tomorrow for a relaxing week of sunshine, wine, gardens and sea.