Agencies supply drunk teachers

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Drunk teachers and those on a government blacklist are being sent into schools as supply teachers because of the failure to regulate teacher agencies.

A survey of Greater London secondary schools by Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP for Barking, found that three-quarters used private agencies and a third complained about the teachers they were sent. They worried that those recruited by agencies had escaped from full-time teaching because they could not cope or had been sacked. One teacher who was too drunk to teach still presented himself in front of a class.

The schools said agencies used teachers who were just babysitters with worksheets, who came from abroad and knew nothing about English exams or the National Curriculum, were late, racist, or aggressive, or were in the middle of nervous breakdowns. Even when a head sent one teacher back for being aggressive, he was simply sent to another school.

In July, Mrs Hodge told the Commons that a former headmaster on the Government blacklist of those barred from teaching, turned up in a school as the director of a Manchester teaching agency, to drum up business. He had been convicted of theft.

Ministers have promised to close a loophole which allows agencies to employ teachers without checks on their background. But Mrs Hodge does not believe the checks will be rigorous enough. "Schools must be able to rely on the agencies to send suitably qualified staff," she said. "The survey proves that some ... agencies are failing our children and also undermining our standards."

There are between 30 and 40 teacher agencies throughout England and Wales. On average every child is taught by a supply teacher for two classes each week. The question of standards has been highlighted by the case of a Portsmouth agency which this summer collapsed after a pounds 2m fraud and non-payment of 34 teachers.

Tish Seabourne, managing director of TimePlan, the biggest agency, which sends out 700 supply teachers a day, said: "It has become clear that other agencies are not applying the same standards as ourselves. We see our rejects turning up in classrooms

A spokesman for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said: "Those who seek to harm children are very well-organised in this country and we must do everything as a society to put in place proper checks."

A Department for Education spokesman said guidance on checking supply teachers had been issued to schools in June. "New legislation will make it compulsory to carry out checks on all teachers."