The Department for Education & Skills has moved to tighten the rules on vetting of staff in response to a damning Ofsted report that revealed that schools were failing to ensure that staff had been cleared to work with children.
The announcement came as Ofsted published a government-commissioned report which showed that “hardly any” of the 58 schools it surveyed kept adequate records of Criminal Records Bureau or List 99 checks made on staff. The report also said that it was “unacceptable” that over half of schools kept no records at all of checks prior to 2002.
Another area of “unacceptable practice” was the widespread failure to ask supply agencies for evidence that CRB checks on supply staff had been made, while local authorities were often not making sure that the necessary checks had been made.
Ofsted also criticised the DfES for providing guidance that “leads to confusion”.
The chief inspector of schools Maurice Smith said: “The repeated recommendations of inquiries into the deaths of vulnerable children urge secure procedures and good record-keeping as the backbone of safeguarding such children. I want to walk into any school next term and, if I ask for a list of staff, and secure evidence that their identity, qualifications and criminal records have been checked, the school will be in a position to show me that record.”
In response, the education secretary Alan Johnson announced a tightening of record-keeping measures, including mandatory CRB checks on all overseas applicants to local authorities, schools and colleges.
Johnson said: “The Ofsted report makes clear that CRB checks are being completed in schools and colleges but more needs to be done to ensure that proper records are being maintained.”
The National Confederation for Parent Teacher Associations, the membership organisation for PTAs, laid much of the blame for the problems at the government’s door and its handling of the new vetting system imposed on schools to prevent sex offenders from working with children,
The NCPTA called for the implementation of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, which the government says will introduce a more effective system, to be brought forward. Currently going through parliament, the Bill is expected to be implemented in 2007 and some parts in 2008.
Spokesperson Margaret Morrissey said: “It is a huge disappointment that three months after the new system was introduced we are no nearer to getting things sorted out. Many parents will have lost confidence in anything ministers say.”
“I think schools are trying very hard but are struggling to keep up. They should be given instructions, not guidance.”
Morrissey also said that there needed to be clear guidance on what constituted a volunteer. The Ofsted report uncovered “unacceptable variations in practice” in checks for both volunteers and governors and that schools were not given clear information how to do so by local authorities.
Safeguarding children: an evaluation of procedures for checking staff appointed by schools from www.ofsted.gov.uk