The Driving Instructors Association has expressed concern at DVSA’s handling of the communication of a new policy focused on safeguarding in the sector - and is furthermore challenging the agency on whether an enforcement only approach, predominantly focused on one single element of safeguarding, is the most effective way of ‘stepping up’ safeguards for pupils across the board.
The regulator issued a press release over the weekend, which centred on the agency’s decision to allow the Registrar the right to remove ADIs from the register who were found to be engaged in a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year old pupil.
Following on from Prime Minister Theresa May’s call in the House of Commons last October to look at ways to protect learner drivers, DVSA confirmed to the driver training industry that they will treat any sexual relationship with pupils under the age of 18, even if consensual, as exploitation. If an instructor is considered a high risk to learners, they face being removed from the ADI register.
DVSA will investigate serious allegations of improper behaviour and refer its findings to the police. These allegations include instructors using sexualised language, unnecessary physical or inappropriate contact and sending indecent messages or images to their pupils.
DIA, who have been vocal about the need for more advice, information and training in the area of safeguarding for ADIs (and who are the only professional driver association body to offer such advisory resources to ADIs specifically in this area of professional risk), have questioned the release in that it appears to prescribe a one shot solution for such a complex issue.
CEO Carly Brookfield comments: "We absolutely share DVSA’s standpoint that sexual relationships with 16 and 17 year olds are professionally inappropriate - any professional working in such a position of trust who engages in sexually inappropriate behaviour should expect themselves to be subject to such regulatory sanctions.
"However, with a matter as complex as safeguarding - and with vulnerability on both sides of the professional relationship (with trainers and pupils both being vulnerable to abuse, harassment and other forms of inappropriate behaviour) - I would question the agency’s approach on the issue of safeguarding in the sector overall and point to clear deficiencies in policy and regulation which this announcement has not resolved. Primarily, we would highlight the complete lack of training and education on the subject on safeguarding in a regulated profession where individuals regularly work on an unsupervised one on one basis with those classed by many legal definitions as children (under the age of 18) and vulnerable adults."
DIA was the first organisation in the industry to highlight the lack of effective safeguarding policy and training for the profession – beyond a baseline DBS check. In addition the association also introduced a safeguarding course (the first of its kind specifically designed for driver and rider trainers) and trained advisory staff on the frontline to enable them to better respond to safeguarding issues disclosed by trainers or members of the public. It urges DVSA, ADIs and the industry as a whole to get behind guidance and education initiatives like this, helping to mitigate the risk of breaches occurring.
Crucially, DIA also points to the more positive role that ADIs can have in spotting and reporting safeguarding issues, CEO Brookfield comments;
“As opposed to the context of DVSA’s press release, which focuses on ADIs being potential perpetrators of safeguarding issues – and those issues solely being of a sexually inappropriate nature (when safeguarding is actually far more complex and diverse than one single area of abuse, harassment or exploitation) - we genuinely believe that ADIs can play a more important role in the spotting and stopping of safeguarding issues they see in their vulnerable pupils, often more likely to be perpetrated by third parties.
""As we have learned in road safety, education reduces risk and can be more effective in the longer term than enforcement alone. In many other professions (where individual practitioners regularly work unsupervised with young people and vulnerable adults) safeguarding training is delivered as standard and professionals are regularly updated on the subject. I would therefore urge DVSA to work with expert organisations like ourselves to develop further safeguarding advisory resources for ADI, and in developing policy and regulation for the industry that better recognises the complexity of the safeguarding. The agency has acknowledged our safeguarding training provision is a good thing for ADIs to do, but we would like to see the regulator include safeguarding training in the ADI qualification process.
"Finally we would also ask what level of safeguarding training and policy is in place for DVSA personnel, particularly those who regularly come into close contact with children and vulnerable adults (i.e. Examiners) so we are reassured the agency is taking a holistic approach to the issue and leads from the front . The same questions should also be asked of any driver training body accredited by DVSA whose personnel delivering at the frontline are not always ADIs and who are therefore not subject to the same regulatory requirements and measures."
DIA has expressed disappointment at the lack of consultation with representative organisations on this weekend’s media statement before it was released and has offered the agency right to reply to this article. At the time of press we had not received any feedback.
NJC has released a similar statement to its members expressing disappointment in how the communication was handled by DVSA