Kelly promises tougher school checks

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The Independent Online

Nobody convicted or cautioned for child sex offences will be allowed to teach in schools, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly announced today.

In an eagerly awaited statement listened to in silence by a crowded Commons, Ms Kelly also announced that ministers would be removed from the controversial vetting process.

After a storm over the employment of sex offenders in schools, she said an expert independent panel would take decisions instead, but promised there would be no "witch-hunt" against anyone wrongly accused.

Ms Kelly's future as Education Secretary was thought to be on the line after therow erupted over sex offenders.

She told MPs she "deeply regretted the worry and concern" that had been caused to parents and was determined to do everything she could to ease their concerns.

Procedures for preventing sex offenders from working with children had been tightened, but had developed "piecemeal" and now needed tightening further still.

A review had found 10 cases where registered sex offenders had not been placed on List 99, barring them from employment with children, since 1997.

In each case officials and police had said that the individuals were not a threat.

In a detailed statement, Ms Kelly said: "I deeply regret the worry and concernthat has been caused to parents over the last few weeks.

"I am determined to do everything I can to ease their concerns. This is a complex area. There are no easy answers."

Child protection had been a top priority of successive governments, with ministers making difficult decisions.

Law and practice had been "continually tightened" but the vetting and barring system had developed "piecemeal" over the last 80 years and the public mood had hardened.

"It is time to overhaul the system. We need a system where child protection comes first above all other considerations," she said.

"There must be absolute clarity about who does what. The system must command public confidence ... and it must be fair to individuals, giving rights of appeal.

"There must be no witch-hunts against hard working teachers and there must be protection against false or malicious allegations."