Threat to private schools with 'banned' staff

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NEARLY half of the 2,500 independent schools in Britain fail to check regularly that new staff have not been convicted for sex, drugs or other offences, according to the Department for Education.

John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, said yesterday that he planned to take powers to close any school employing such a person by removing it from the Register of Independent Schools. Local authority schools are required by law to check the Department for Education's List 99, which names about 1,900 people with convictions for sex, drugs, financial and other offences.

'We have been worried for some time that not enough independent schools make use of existing facilities to check the names of potential employees against our list of people banned from teaching,' Mr Patten said.

'This could put the safety and welfare of children at risk.'

The power would only be used as a last resort but he expected most school proprietors would want to review their procedures to ensure checks were being made 'promptly and consistently'. Private schools opened or acquired by a barred person would also face closure under the plans, which are open for consultation until 15 October.

GCSE standards in Wales are being maintained, according to HM Inspectors. They make some of the same criticisms about details of the examining process that appear in a recent controversial HMI report which said that standards in England could have been eroded since 1988.

However, the Welsh inspectors concluded: 'The standards applied are generally appropriate and there is no evidence that standards applied this year vary from previous years.'

Mr Patten has said that the GCSE examining bodies must improve procedures.