Children and other vulnerable groups

Studies with children or other vulnerable groups

If you intend to work with children or other vulnerable groups (e.g., adult in care), you may be required to undergo additional checks. Please read through the follow to help determine what is required of you before beginning the process of applying for ethical approval for your study.

What age is your participant group?

The legal age of capacity in Scotland is 16. Rules around capacity differ across the UK jurisdictions. In Scotland, 16 and 17-year-olds can consent to participating in research without needing parental consent. If a 16 or 17-year-old in Scotland lacks the capacity to consent, they should be treated as an adult who lacks capacity (under the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000). If the legal age of capacity differs in the location where you are collecting data, defer to that locality’s age of capacity.

Disclosure and criminal background checks

In order to conduct research with children (under 16) or other vulnerable groups (prisoners, other adults in care), you may need to undergo a criminal background check. For example, most primary schools in Edinburgh will only let adults work in a one-to-one situation with children (i.e., unsupervised) if the adult has had a full police check carried out by Disclosure Scotland. In most cases, Basic Disclosure will suffice, in other cases, the researcher will need to join the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme. Be aware that these checks can take time (up to 14 days for Basic Disclosure, and up to 6 months for PVG) and incur an administrative fee.

Basic Disclosure: A one-time background check for relevant convictions in the UK. Appropriate for researchers who will not be working long-term with children, will not be unsupervised with children, or are not involved in regulated work (i.e., caring, teaching, providing personal services, etc.). In other words, most projects. The researcher can apply for Basic Disclosure themselves online.

PVG scheme: A scheme you join that conducts regular background check, and thus is updated regularly. Appropriate for longer-term, regulated work (i.e., caring, teaching, providing personal services, etc.), or if an external institution/host requires it.

To determine whether you need to join the PVG scheme, have a look at the documentation linked below, or speak to your local ethics rep.

CHSS Information about Disclosure and PVG Scheme
MyGov Information about Types of Disclosure and PVG Scheme

To apply for PVG:

Permission to contact Edinburgh council schools

To conduct studies in Edinburgh schools, you must get permission through the Edinburgh City Council. The contact person as of 2016 is Contact this person to get the latest guidance and the application form. Other notes:

  • This process can take up to 4 weeks.
  • You will be required to provide evidence of ethical approval for your project.
  • You will be required to provide evidence of valid disclosure or PVG scheme (dated within one year of your application to the council).

Information about schools (City of Edinburgh Council)

Applying for ethical approval: Special considerations

Basic Disclosure/PVG: Please ensure that all researchers who will be working directly with vulnerable participants have a valid Basic Disclosure or PVG (if required) before applying for ethical approval for your project.

Council permission: You must have your ethics protocol approved before you attempt to obtain permission from Edinburgh council to work within council school. Once you have obtained permission, please let us know by sending an email to

Special documentation: You must provide a parent friendly information sheet and consent form (see template below). You should also provide the ethics committee with an example recruitment letter if you intend to contact schools, nurseries, or after school clubs. Please consider the language used in your consent form if working with other vulnerable groups.