FAQs: online recruitment checks

Dai Durbridge answers some common questions about the online recruitment checks guidance, describes the challenges and offers advice for carrying out the searches

Author details

Dai Durbridge is a partner in the education team at Browne Jacobson. He provides advice and training to teachers and other education professionals on relevant legal and practical issues. He has a particular focus on safeguarding issues, having...

The updated safer recruitment guidance on online checks states that ‘…as part of the shortlisting process schools and colleges should consider carrying out an online search as part of their due diligence on the shortlisted candidates. This may help identify any incidents or issues that have happened, and are publicly available online, which the school or college might want to explore with the applicant at interview.’

Let’s break this down.

‘Shortlisting process' – there is no requirement to carry out an online search on every applicant. Focus on shortlisting candidates first.
‘Help identify any incidents or issues' — this is the crux of the ‘why’ and helps us focus on what we are looking for: things said or done that would either harm the reputation of your school or trust or make the candidate unsuitable to work with children.

Get organised

Q1. What are we looking for?

Content that does one of two things: calls into question the candidate’s suitability to work with children and/or causes harm to the reputation of your school or trust. So, what does that all look like in practice? I suggest you look at six broad categories:

  1. extremism and hate speech
  2. violent images
  3. nudity
  4. toxic language
  5. swearing and profanity
  6. drug or alcohol misuse.

Q2. Where should we look?

We are looking for online information that is available to anyone through the usual search engines and websites, so focus on Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. LinkedIn could be added, but it is highly unlikely people will post inappropriate content on a professional networking platform.

Q3. How far back do we need to go?

There is no guidance on how far back searches should reach. Over time, the sector will reach a standard approach (as we always do) but until then I recommend that five years as a sensible timeframe.

Q4. Should we ask candidates for their social media handles?

Yes, otherwise the whole of the internet will need searching. I did this using a relatively common combination of first name and surname (Jenny Hughes) and Google retuned 22.5m hits. Even on my name, Google offered 31,00 results. Reviewing the results from that breadth of search is almost impossible.

Asking for handles limits the search area and saves you some time on a task that will already require a lot of resource if you choose to do it manually.

Carrying out the checks

Q5. Should we use manual or third party checks?

Checks can be done manually, but as described above, it may be very labour-intensive.

Third party providers will come at a cost but so will finding resource to carry out the checks manually. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at tech solutions and some of the providers I have seen offer a good, quick report that links you to the particular post, so you can review them and determine your next steps.

Q6. Who should carry out manual checks?

Someone unconnected to the recruitment process, so they can sift through the findings and report to the recruitment team only on the relevant findings. This way the risk of discrimination is reduced. This person will need training on how to search and what information to filter out. For trusts, I’d recommend centralising the process so you can ensure a consistent approach.

Q7. What else do we need to know about manual checks?

I recommend putting in place a process for carrying out the checks to ensure a consistent approach, as well as a reporting pro forma so the results can be passed to the recruitment team in a clear, manageable way.
Finally, think about firewalls and any other restrictions your setting has for online searches. Make sure your systems do not prevent you from seeing the content you are actually looking for.

Q8. What do you recommend?

Both have pros and cons; it will likely come down to cost and your confidence in meeting the requirement with a manual check. Manual checks require resource (and therefore cost) and using a tech solution means spending cash. The volume of searches and available resource may also influence your decision.

This requirement has only just come into force, so it will take time for schools and trusts to determine the best way to complete the checks. My view is that, over time, most schools and trusts will move to a tech solution for online searches.

The candidates

Q9. What do we do if we find something?

If you are using a good quality third party solution, they should provide you with an interactive report setting out what with links to review the content quickly and easily.

If you are doing the checks manually, a report should be provided to the recruitment team setting out the same information and providing copies of the content they need to review.

From there you need to do three things:

  1. assess the content
  2. determine whether you need to discuss it with the candidate
  3. if discussed with the candidate, assess their answers and determine their suitability for appointment.

Q10. Should we tell candidates we are doing this?

They should know anyway but openness is the best approach. You should update the recruitment pack you send to candidates to remind them that this check is now required.

Q11. Are there data protection concerns?

There’s nothing to worry about here. You are searching public information and you are doing it because statutory safeguarding guidance requires it. Therefore, you can rely on public task as your lawful basis for processing.

Last Updated: 
29 Sep 2022