The row over a sex offender who was given a job at a school in Norwich has intensified with an admission from the Education Secretary that there have been more cases where sex offenders were cleared to work in schools by ministers.
Ruth Kelly announced an urgent review of "a small number of cases" as she came under mounting pressure over Paul Reeve, who was cleared to work as a PE teacher at the Hewett School last month despite being cautioned for accessing child pornography on the internet. About 10 people on the sex offenders register are now thought to have been cleared to work in schools.
The Tories and Liberal Democrats described the new revelations as extraordinary and said they demonstrated Ms Kelly's poor judgement.
There has been growing speculation that Ms Kelly could be moved from her job in an imminent cabinet reshuffle. She has already come under fire for her handling of controversial school reforms which look likely to spark a Labour rebellion. The Prime Minister's official spokesman took the unusual step yesterday of talking in advance about a reshuffle to confirm that Ms Kelly's job was safe. The spokesman said Mr Blair wanted her to see through the education reforms.
The case of Mr Reeve dates back to 2003 when he was arrested by Norfolk Police as part of Operation Ore, the UK's largest inquiry into child pornography, and given a police caution. He was only stopped from working as a teacher when police, who had warned that he was a risk, alerted the headteacher. The case was considered by ministers at the Department for Education and Skills last year but they decided that the evidence linking him to paedophile websites was "inconclusive" and did not place him on List 99, a dossier of adults banned from working in schools.
Ms Kelly is not believed to have dealt with the case personally and it has been suggested that the decision was taken by a junior minister. But Ms Kelly said yesterday that she took full responsibility for all decisions taken in her department about whether sex offenders should be placed on List 99 and that she would decide all future cases herself.
In a statement to MPs, Ms Kelly said: "Initial inquiries indicate that there have been a small number of cases where ministers have made the decision not to include on List 99 an individual on the sex offenders register. I have therefore decided to commission as a matter of urgency an exhaustive review of all such cases since the introduction of the sex offenders register, the decision-making process surrounding such cases and any immediate policy implications."
David Willetts, the shadow Education Secretary, said: "We now need to know as a matter of urgency how many such cases there have been, and whether heads were made aware they were employing someone on the sex offenders register."