New workforce-vetting legislation promised for February

The government will introduce legislation next month to tighten the system for vetting and barring those who wish to work with children, education secretary Ruth Kelly promised today.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Kelly said the government was in a position to bring forward legislation to implement the Bichard system at the end of February, adding that she was “confident that Parliamentary time could be found for the bill this session”.

The Bichard system – named after Sir Michael Bichard, who led the inquiry into the appointment of Soham murderer Ian Huntley as a school caretaker – will ensure that anyone entering the children’s workforce is vetted beforehand, that police records are continuously updated, and that cautions and convictions are treated in the same way.

Pressure to implement the changes has been growing since the weekend, when it was revealed that Kelly had decided to allow a teacher on the sex offenders register to continue teaching and apply for new posts.

The man’s subsequent employment as a PE teacher at The Hewett School in Norwich was only thwarted following an urgent local multi-agency meeting after Norfolk police expressed reservations. The school suspended the teacher from duty pending further discussions, and he later resigned.

Child protection charity the NSPCC questioned whether ministers and civil servants have the degree of knowledge necessary to make decisions about the risk individuals pose to children and has called for the new vetting system to be run by people with “sound child protection knowledge and experience”.

An urgent review into the decision making process was ordered by Kelly yesterday, to be carried out “with the greatest possible speed”. It will look particularly at the role ministers play,  how police advice can be more fully considered before decisions are made, and how the sex offenders register and list of individuals barred from working in schools – known as List 99 – can be more closely aligned.

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