You are here:

Last reviewed on 25 August 2021
Ref: 1052
School types: All · School phases: All

Download our summary and quickly identify who needs a DBS check, and what type they need. Plus, use our template risk assessment to decide whether to accept an existing DBS certificate, and find guidance on staff starting before their check comes through.

Download our summary table to identify which checks are required 

Use our summary to find out who needs a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check and which level is needed:

It's based on part 3 of the statutory safeguarding guidance, Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE)

GOV.UK also has a tool for working out what level of DBS check someone needs.

Use our risk assessment to decide whether to accept an existing check

For appointees from another school/college who've been in employment within the last 3 months, you can request a new enhanced DBS check for these staff, if you wish. Or, you can:

  • Use the DBS Update Service to check that the information on their existing certificate is still current (if the appointee has subscribed to the service)
  • Accept their existing DBS certificate

Use our risk assessment to help you decide whether to accept an existing DBS certificate or carry out a new check (if you're in a maintained school, check first whether your local authority has guidance on this). 

Understand the different types of DBS check

There are 2 types of DBS check available for those working in schools: 

  • Enhanced: a check of the police national computer records of spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and warnings, plus additional information such as interviews and allegations (where a chief police officer reasonably believes it's relevant and should be disclosed) 
  • Enhanced with children's and/or adults' barred list information: the same information as the enhanced check, plus checks of whether someone is included on the national DBS ‘barred lists’ of individuals unsuitable for working with children or adults

When do you need an adults' barred list check?

You need an adult workforce enhanced DBS check with adults' barred list information only for staff working in regulated activity with 'vulnerable' adults. 

An adult (anyone aged 18 or over) is considered 'vulnerable' if they require activities or support in any of the 6 regulated activity categories laid out in the Department of Health's guidance on regulated activity for adults (see pages 5 to 9). 

In schools, the most relevant activity will likely be providing personal care (which includes physically assisting someone), or managing/supervising someone who provides that care.

This will be in addition to the child workforce enhanced DBS check with children’s barred list information you carry out for an individual if they’re also working in regulated activity with pupils under the age of 18.

More guidance on adult workforce checks is available from the DBS here.

Residential special schools are a bit of a special case – some staff may need adult workforce enhanced DBS checks (without barred list information) even if not in regulated activity with adults. Read the DBS guidance linked to just above to understand the specific requirements.

Delays in the DBS check process

A member of staff can work in regulated activity before their DBS certificate has come through, provided that:

  • They're supervised; and
  • They've undergone all other required checks, including a separate children's barred list check

This can be found in paragraph 228 of KCSIE.

However, we recommend that you avoid allowing someone to start in a role before you have the results of their DBS check. This is because:

  • The DfE and Ofsted expect this to only happen in exceptional circumstances
  • Even if there are exceptional circumstances, you leave yourself open to legal challenge if a DBS then shows that the person is unsuitable

Learn more about this below.

Exceptional circumstances

The DfE expects that schools will only allow someone to start in a post before the results of their DBS check are known, in exceptional circumstances. There isn't a definition of 'exceptional circumstances', but you'd need to be able to demonstrate to Ofsted why you felt the circumstances were exceptional. A DfE representative told us this.

Ofsted will assess on a case-by-case basis whether the decision to allow someone to start in post before the results of their DBS check came through was appropriate. Inspectors will expect to see evidence of the steps you took to reduce risk and safeguard pupils in this situation. An Ofsted representative explained this to us.

If you aren't able to show inspectors adequate evidence of exceptional circumstances or adequate additional safeguards, this could lead to your school being rated 'inadequate' on the basis of safeguarding concerns.

To demonstrate 'exceptional circumstances', you'd likely need to show that excessive delays would prevent you making an appointment in a crucial post, and failure to appoint would lead to:

  • Significant challenges keeping the school open; or
  • Significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning; or
  • Significant impact on the safety and security of pupils

Hollie Simmonds of Fitzgerald HR gave us this advice. 

What are the legal implications?

While KCSIE allows you to start someone in post before the DBS results are received, this can create a complicated employment law situation.

Allowing someone to start in a role before the outcome of checks is known can lead the employee to claim that a contract has been entered into. To prevent this happening, you'd need to be clear with the employee that:

  • Starting a job under supervision means that they haven't entered into an employment contract yet
  • Their contract will be issued when the results of the DBS check are received
  • If the results of the DBS check show that they're unsuitable for the role, their services will no longer be required with immediate effect

You should document all of this in writing, along with detailed notes of your correspondence and interactions with the employee at every stage of the recruitment process.

Get help with this from your HR provider and legal support.

Even if you do all of the above, you may still not prevent someone claiming that you entered into a contract with them. 

That can lead to further issues, such as breach of contract claims or formal dismissal procedures, which can be costly for your school.

This advice came from Forbes Solicitors.

Carry out a risk assessment

If you need to start someone in post before you know the outcome of their DBS check, and you feel you can demonstrate that your circumstances are exceptional, you can use the risk assessment template in the section on 'appointees from another school or college' above to help you decide:

  • Whether this would be appropriate
  • What safeguards you'd need to put in place

If you're in a maintained school, your local authority may have its own risk assessment that you must use in this situation, so check with them first before you use ours.

You can use the risk assessment template in situations where:

  • A DBS check for new school staff hasn't arrived yet
  • You've decided not to accept an existing check from an appointee from another school or college and are awaiting the results of their new check

More from The Key


Bitesize training with a big impact

Our on-demand training has your whole board covered and lets them learn at a time and pace that suits them.

Help your new governors hit the ground running with our expertly-designed induction training, and our role-specific courses support your link governors develop key skills and confidence in their role.


New eLearning: DSL refresher training

Your DSL’s training should be refreshed at least once every 2 years. 

Designed in collaboration with safeguarding experts, our 2.5 hour online refresher training course reminds DSLs how to put their knowledge into practice, with in-depth, real-world scenarios.


The Key has taken great care in publishing this article. However, some of the article's content and information may come from or link to third party sources whose quality, relevance, accuracy, completeness, currency and reliability we do not guarantee. Accordingly, we will not be held liable for any use of or reliance placed on this article's content or the links or downloads it provides. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.