The report by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, on how well schools are carrying out their responsibilities to vet staff has exposed an unwelcome complacency about the potential danger to children from paedophiles. Very few schools and local authorities, it seems, had kept any records of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks that they had made on their staff. While Ofsted acknowledges it was probable that they had done the necessary checks, they had no way of confirming that the checks had been done. That is being rectified by the Education Secretary Alan Johnson's exhortation to them to keep clear and up-to-date records.
Far more worrying, though, is the lack of robust checks on overseas staff seeking to teach in schools and the lax regulations governing the regulation of teacher supply agencies. It is difficult to insist that a police force overseas carries out an adequate check on staff but - at the very least - schools and local authority employers should be seeking to get some kind of written guarantee that the employee concerned has no criminal record. On supply agencies, the position at the moment is that it is up to the school to insist that the supply agency vets staff it is sending to them - but very few head teachers know this. Mr Johnson has promised urgent guidelines to clarify this. It would seem that agencies should be legally required to carry out CRB checks on all their staff. The guidelines cannot come soon enough. Having said that, we would be loath to add to the hysteria surrounding the reporting of this issue in some national newspapers.
Our schools are not crawling with paedophiles who have used every trick in the book to gain access to children. We agree with Margaret Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, who says that there are thousands of schools where there is no problem. However, we also agree that if you are the parent of a child in the one school where a paedophile has slipped through the net that is of no comfort to you. Tighter checks and a legal obligation on supply agencies to vet staff are the way ahead. More draconian solutions, such as giving parents access to the names and addresses of all paedophiles, are not. They run the risk of the guilty going to ground or innocent people living at the same address being beaten up.Reuse content