All child sex offenders will be barred from working in schools in the future, education secretary Ruth Kelly reassured MPs today.
Responding to mounting pressure over the revelation that a “small number” of individuals on the sex offenders register had been cleared by her department to work in schools, Kelly promised new regulations to ensure anyone convicted or cautioned for a sexual offence against a child would automatically be entered on the list of people barred from working in schools, known as List 99.
She also promised that new legislation to be brought forward in February to bring together List 99 and the Protection of Children Act List into a single register of people barred from working with children would also remove from ministers any responsibility for taking barring decisions. This job will transfer instead to the statutory body holding the new combined register.
Currently, only convictions for 40 of the most serious sex offences result in automatic inclusion on List 99. For other cases, decisions have been made at ministers’ discretion.
Kelly said that an urgent review into this loophole had revealed there had been 10 cases since 1997 in which ministers had decided not to place an individual who was on the sex offenders register on List 99. However, she said that none of these individuals were either currently working in a school or considered by the police to pose a risk.
Until the legislation removing ministers from the barring process is passed, a panel of independent experts led by former Barnardo’s chief executive Roger Singleton will oversee the List 99 process and advise Kelly on any further discretionary decisions. It will also review cases determined before the sex offenders register was set up in 1997.
Setting out her plans to “overhaul” the system, Kelly told MPs: “We need a system where child protection comes first, above all other considerations. It must be a rigorous system drawing on the best expert advice. There must be absolute clarity about who does what. The system must command public confidence and it must be accountable.”