Child employment and performances: Safeguarding your students

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The laws surrounding performance and employment are there to protect children and young people. How much do you know about what’s required and how to ‘get the balance right’? Ed Magee, the Chair of the National Network for Child Employment and Entertainment (NNCEE) provides his advice.

Summary

  • There are two sets of legislation in relation to performances and employment.
  • One of the biggest issues surrounding performances can be taking time off for auditions.
  • Where working students are in possession of a permit, this helps ensure that a risk assessment has been carried out.

Every day, child employment officers across the UK tread a fine balancing act between allowing children and young people the opportunity to work but also ensuring that their education will not suffer, and that they are safeguarded while they are employed.

There are two different sets of legislation, one for film, TV, theatre and modelling, and the other covering working in a shop, café or having a paper round. Both sets of legislation have complex rules about how many days and hours children can work and what sort of work they can do.

Performances

For performances, one of the biggest issues for schools can be the amount of time a child takes off for auditions. This does not require a licence from the local authority (LA), and it is up to the school to decide if they should authorise the time off. A small number of children are very successful, some have a degree of success, and some are chasing a dream of stardom that may never happen.

A good agent will only put up children for roles they think match the casting call, and none of them want to harm a child’s education. But some parents feel it’s only a matter of time and the more auditions their child goes to the better their chances.

It can seem cruel to dash their or their parent’s hopes and dreams, but it’s a fickle business as we have seen over the last year, with many actors and production staff laid off with little or no support as they tend to be freelancers. But allowing a child to miss school regularly does not enable them to have success in later life. While a small number of people can get by without exams, most of us will need them as they open doors and opportunities for us as adults.

Performances arranged by the school are not included in the legislation. If a third party such as a music service or hub puts on events, then the children involved need to be licensed. Performances that will need a licence include those put on by professional companies but also amateur groups such as choirs, dance and theatre schools.

Getting the balance right

Below are some guidelines for ensuring that the ambitions of a student can be met while also safeguarding their education.

  • Review a child’s level of attendance at regular intervals. Taking 20 afternoons off across a school year would be just over 5% absences and that’s before any jobs or illness.
  • Ask parents to arrange auditions for after school and during school holidays. Speak with the parents about the time off if the child’s overall absence level dips below 95%. Involve the school education welfare officer or speak to the parents yourself. Also check that the time off does not become minor illness in the future.
  • When attendance reaches 90%, it’s time for a senior leader to have a discussion with class teachers about the impact of the absences and to have a discussion with the parents. At this rate the child has reached the ‘persistent absence’ threshold.

If the child’s education is suffering, you need to let the child employment officer know as they can refuse to issue a licence for that child. It’s rare for it to happen, but if there is evidence, such as missing work, tiredness in class, arriving late after a performance, and slipping grades, the child employment officer can explain to the parents, the agent and the production why the licence will not be issued.

Without the evidence the LA might still have to issue the licence. There is a possibility the LA could be challenged in the magistrate’s court, which is why they need the evidence. Even the DfE attendance guidance starts, ‘Head teachers should be sympathetic to requests that are supported by a licence, as long as the school remains satisfied that this will not have a negative effect on a child’s education’.

Other types of work

Unlike child entertainment, where children can perform from the ages of 0 to 16 years (at the last Friday in June), children who work for a business are only able to work from the ages of 13 to 16 years (at the last Friday in June of Year 11). Another slight change is that the licence is issued by the council where the work is based or carried out, not where the child lives.

The hours that young people can work are different for school holidays and during term time. On a Sunday, all young people are limited to two hours of work. On a Saturday they can work for five hours if they are 13 and 14, and eight hours if they are 15 and 16.

No child can start work before 7am on any day. On a school day, a child may work for an hour before school, or from the close of school until 7pm, but no more than two hours on any one school day. Young people cannot work after 7pm on any day of the week.

A recent survey by the NNCEE has seen a 56% drop in child employment licences issued this year compared with two years ago. But we know that some children are regularly working for family businesses or working more hours than they are allowed and even in jobs they are not supposed to do. Some jobs, such as babysitting and if the child is self-employed, are not covered by the legislation.

The laws on the types of jobs that young people can and cannot do date back to the 1920s. The NNCEE has recently launched an online petition calling on the government to review the guidance and ensure that the legislation is fit for the twenty-first century (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/588364).

  • It’s worth inviting your LA’s child employment officer to come along and give an assembly about child employment.
  • If you believe a child is working, check whether they have been issued with permits – the LA can tell you.
  • If a child is working without a permit, report it to the LA for them to investigate and ensure that the child gets a permit.
  • If you believe a child is working outside the hours of 7am to 7pm, let your LA know – sometimes newspaper deliveries start a little earlier than allowed.
  • If a child is missing school because of working during the school day, then this needs to be followed up by the LA.

Permits are quick and easy to apply for and they are issued free of charge. Local authorities can offer employers lots of advice and support and they would much rather work with the employer than prosecute them if the legislation is not followed.

The biggest advantage of having a licence or a permit is knowing that the child is safeguarded, and comprehensive risk assessments have been carried out; without a permit the child is not covered by the employer’s insurance and the insurance for the business may be invalid. If you have any questions about child employment, speak with your local child employment officer or have a look at www.nncee.org.uk.

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About Author

Ed Magee

Ed Magee has been the Chair of the National Network for Child Employment and Entertainment since January 2020. He was previously the organisation’s treasurer and is also the Chair NNCEE South East and London region. He is the lead officer for child employment, entertainment, chaperone approval, elective home education and attendance at the London Borough of Camden and has worked there for the past 25 years.

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