Press release

Biggest overhaul to child performance regulations in over 40 years

Outdated and confusing child performance rules are to be overhauled, under sweeping changes published today by Children’s Minister Tim Loughton.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Outdated and confusing child performance rules are to be overhauled, under sweeping changes published today by Children’s Minister Tim Loughton.

The requirements for licensing under-16s to take part safely in public performances - including television, radio, films or stage - have not been reformed since 1968.

But there is widespread concern they are now simply archaic, complex, irrelevant and overly bureaucratic - drawn up in an age with just three television channels and a handful of radio stations; predating the creation of Ofcom; and taking no account of tighter child protection legislation over the last four decades.

The current rules mean that:

  • Local authorities, producers and broadcasters are confused about which specific activities require a licence - meaning that many under-16s are missing out on the chance to act, sing, play music and dance in amateur and professional productions.
  • Councils are forced by the system to prioritise chasing applicants to fill out the right paperwork, instead of inspecting and enforcing licences.
  • There is little clarity over what producers, broadcasters and parents’ specific responsibilities are for protecting young performers in their care.

Today’s proposed changes, welcomed by award-winning actor and patron of the Little Theatre Guild, Sir Ian McKellen, will:

  • Speed up the system by making a clear presumption that licences will be issued if it is clear that the safety and welfare of children (before, during and after performances) is not at risk.
  • Put a clear onus on parents to take responsibility for their own children’s activities and producers to show they have put in place robust safeguarding arrangements and thorough risk assessments before they apply for a licence.
  • Clarify, simplify and strengthen guidance on exactly what programmes and shows licences need to be granted for, so young people will be fully protected wherever they perform - from the West End to local theatre; television and radio; film productions, modelling and sport.

For television and radio, the proposals are that a licence will be required when children are placed in “artificial situations”, which “have been contrived for artistic, editorial or dramatic effect”. Programmes which may be billed or presented as ‘observational’ or ‘factual’, but where the experience of the child is still contrived for dramatic effect, will also require licensing. ‘Unmanipulated’ interviews with children or films showing them in the ordinary course of their lives will not need licensing.

The final decision will rest with the local authority.

The exact judgement varies from programme to programme - it will be down to local authorities to work with producers on where to draw the line.

The full list of activities exempt and not exempt for licensing are in the notes to editors.

  • Make it far easier for youth and amateur productions to involve children and teenagers - by allowing producers to apply for group licences every two years, to cover all under-16s performers. Currently, they have to apply for individual children’s licences for each show, even when local authorities are content activity is low risk.
  • Make clear it is the role of local authorities solely to make decisions about safeguarding arrangements - not to interfere in producers’ editorial or artistic decisions or override parents’ or guardians’ judgement about what is right for their child.

With or without a performance licence, all UK broadcasters already have to abide by Ofcom’s tough Broadcasting Code to protect under-18s in radio and TV programmes. Ofcom investigates complaints post-transmission about potential breaches of the Code and has powers to impose tough sanctions.

Today’s proposals will be publicly consulted on for nine weeks.

They follow a review of the existing regulations by former chair of the Royal Television Society and former advisor to Ofcom, Sarah Thane CBE, which reported to the last government in March 2010.

There have been detailed preparatory talks in recent months, with broadcasters, theatre producers, dance companies, amateur dramatic societies, local authorities, children’s charities, modelling agencies - with there being widespread backing for change.

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said:

We want to nurture not just the big stars of the future but help all children realise their talents by being able to perform. Everyone should have the chance to act, sing, dance and play sport - giving them memories for life.

The current rules get in the way of that. They are outdated, complex, confusing and not fit for purpose. They come from an age when there were just three television channels and bear no relation to the broadcasting or performing industries in the 21st century. The rules are incredibly complex, bureaucratic and patchily applied - meaning that many amateur dramatic groups simply do not involve children in their plans, which is ridiculous.

There is widespread demand for reform and backing for our approach. Child protection must always be paramount but reams of paperwork do not keep anyone safe - responsible adults do. The new system will require producers to consider all the risks to children from the outset and make robust arrangements to keep them from harm. Children’s safety cannot be an afterthought or a box-ticking exercise.

Cutting back unnecessary red tape will free local authorities to focus on helping producers to develop effective safeguarding policies, and to inspect and enforce the requirements.

Sir Ian McKellen, patron of the Little Theatre Guild said:

I am relieved that amateur drama groups will now face far less bureaucracy before being able to engage children in their productions. The Little Theatre Guild has proposed a chaperone system that removes the need for licensed chaperones that will continue to allow Guild theatres to encourage young people in their discovery of live theatre.

Sarah Thane CBE, former chair of the Royal Television Society and former advisor to Ofcom said:

Reform of the system is overdue and badly needed. This consultation is a key step towards a modern system which increases opportunities for children to perform by reducing bureaucracy and re-focusing responsibility for their well-being. I welcome the government’s overall approach and urge all the relevant stakeholders to take part and ensure that the new regime is fair, and both user- and child-friendly.

Jonathan Rallings, Barnardo’s Assistant Director of Policy, said:

The government’s proposed review of legislation to protect child performers is timely. The law was last changed over forty years ago - back in the analogue age - and needs updating for our digital world. We fully hope that any new legislation will strike a balance between safeguarding children whilst allowing them to take part in the opportunities that the creative industries can offer.

John McVay, Chief Executive of the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (Pact), said:

Pact applauds the coalition government for acting to update outmoded and outdated legislation that has led to a postcode lottery for children, parents and producers for too long. Contrary to some extreme views all UK children wherever they live should be able to realise their talents and possibly careers in broadcasting by being able to participate in a wide range of programmes - from documentaries to talent shows - while making sure that the welfare of the child is central to their involvement.

UK broadcasters and the producers they commission are already subject to rigorous Ofcom broadcasting codes and this new legislation will build on these regulations while making sure that local authorities concentrate on inspection and not interfere unnecessarily in editorial issues. Pact is committed to working with government to ensure that this is legislation is fit for licensing children living in the 21st century.

Pact is the trade association for feature film, television, digital, children’s and animation media companies.

Notes to editors

The proposals will apply to England and Wales.

Consultation and key proposals

The consultation will be published on the Department for Education’s website

The key proposals published for consultation will:

A. Make clear when a licence is required for a child to take part in a professional performance.

The following activities will require local authority licences. In addition, television and radio producers must abide by the Ofcom’s robust Broadcasting Code, which covers all under-18s appearing in television and radio broadcasts who are:

  • performing to a paying audience.
  • performing in premises licensed to sell alcohol.
  • public broadcast material - when children are placed in artificial situations, which have been contrived for artistic, editorial or dramatic effect. Programmes which may be billed or presented as ‘observational’ or ‘factual’ but where the experience of the child is contrived for dramatic effect will require licensing. The final decision will rest with the local authority.
  • paid modelling, including advertising and stills photography.
  • aged under-13 and paid to compete and perform in recognised sports - over and above reasonable expenses. Individual sports governing bodies will be in charge of overseeing over-13s in line with the national Standards for Safeguarding and Protecting Children in Sport, jointly funded by Sport England and the NSPCC.

The following will be exempt:

  • Where the performance is arranged by a school or Academy, including those outside the school premises accompanied by a teacher.
  • Where participation in the activity poses no greater risks, than the risks they face in ordinary course of their life and the child is not being paid.
  • Where it involves the creation of content generated by a child or their parent, where there is no plan to upload or share it for profit.
  • Where a child is aged 13 or over, is not paid, and the specific performance has been granted a local authority Body of Persons approval.
  • Where a producer holds a current amateur performance registration and the child is not being paid to participate.
  • Unplanned performances, for example unpaid auditions, where it would not be practicable for a licence to be obtained in advance. “Auditions” which are recorded and broadcast would required be licensed.

The consultation asks on whether the first four days a child performs in any six month period should be exempt, if the child is not paid.

The proposals will lift age specific limitations on children doing certain types of activities. The current legislation places restrictions on issuing licences to children under-14 unless they are for singing, dancing, acting or taking part in a musical performance.

B) Streamline the licensing process for children to take part in professional productions.

The current rules deter many producers from involving children at all and tie local authority licensing officers up in red tape and paperwork, rather than inspections and enforcement.

The proposals will:

  • speed up the licensing process using standardised applications and risk assessment process throughout England and Wales. Where risks are low, local authorities should aim to issue licences within 10 working days;
  • extend the simplified approval process for children who take part in ‘one off’ events, to include children thirteen and over who are paid;
  • replace licensing requirements for individual children with a simple registration system for companies putting on amateur productions;
  • reduce the maximum number of children that a chaperone can be responsible for - from 12 to ten;
  • remove the requirement for chaperones in the amateur sector to be approved by the local authority;
  • maintain a requirement for 15 hours tuition per week, but give flexibility over the timings and days when this can be provided. This is a matter for parents, teachers and producers to determine - not the State; and
  • give local authorities responsibility for licensing children from their area to perform abroad - at the moment they have to apply to the chief police officer and magistrates in each area under laws dating from 1933.

Publication - Exploratory review of the regulation of child performance

Sarah Thane CBE published her Exploratory Review of the Regulation of Child Performance in March 2010.

The report set out proposals to reform and rebalance the system for licensing child performance, including the rules around working hours, medicals, education, children under 14, and proposals about the inspection arrangements.

The main recommendations were:

  • Modernising the licensing system so it is a quicker process and more consistent across the country - so production companies don’t feel they can only recruit from certain areas of the country.
  • Greater flexibility and more guidance on working hours.
  • Improving the quality of education for child performers.
  • Improving the chaperone role, recognising its important safeguarding responsibility.

Working group

In December 2010, the coalition government set up a working group to develop the Thane recommendations.

The working group included:

  • Sarah Thane, former chair of the Royal Television Society and former advisor to Ofcom
  • Ian Hart and Terry Drury, National Network for Children in Employment and Entertainment
  • John McVay, Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT)
  • Eddie Redfern, Little Theatre Guild
  • John Oates, British Psychological Society
  • The Production Guild
  • BBC
  • Channel 4
  • Society of London Theatre and Theatrical Management Association
  • National Operatic and Dramatic Association
  • Kidscape
  • Barnados
  • The Mindful Policy Group
  • Stagecoach UK
  • Ofcom

Ofcom Broadcasting Code rules:

The independent broadcast regulator Ofcom was created under the Communications Act 2003. There are two rules in the Ofcom Broadcasting Code which apply to the participation of those aged under eighteen in television and radio programmes:

  • Rule 1.28: “Due care must be taken over the physical and emotional welfare and the dignity of people under eighteen who take part or are otherwise involved in programmes. This is irrespective of any consent given by the participant or by a parent, guardian or other person over the age of eighteen in loco parentis”.
  • Rule 1.29: “People under eighteen must not be caused unnecessary distress or anxiety by their involvement in programmes or by the broadcast of those programmes”.

The full Broadcasting Code can be found on the Ofcom website.

Ofcom has issued detailed guidance to accompany the Broadcasting Code.

DfE media enquiries

Central newsdesk - for journalists 020 7783 8300

Published 24 May 2012