A SUPPLY teacher this week told the TES that she had taught in a London primary school without having any form of police check.
The 32-year-old who has 10 years' teaching experience does not use an agency to obtain work. She worked for a day in a primary in the London borough of Havering without being vetted by the police to see if she was fit to work with children.
"I thought because I had a police check for Essex that I did not need another one in Havering. But when I arrived at the school they asked me if I had worked in Havering before. When I said 'no' they gave me a form at the end of the day to fill in for a police check.
"It can take up to six weeks for the check to go through and as it had not been processed for all they knew I could have been a paedophile."
She questioned who was slipping through the net for a day's supply teaching. "This leaves the door open to paedophiles and it makes me worried for children's safety."
However, there are also concerns that lengthy police checks in other areas are adding to recruitment difficulties. Another supply teacher told the TES that she could not work for two months in a London primary school because it took so long for her background to be checked.
The 30-year-old, who has 10 years' teaching experience, said she watched helplessly as her local school struggled to recruit staff.
"I have no criminal record and many years of teaching experience in the British system, so it seemed ridiculous to wait this long - I was told it was because of a police backlog. I don't want to compromise children's safety but I was shocked as I only thought it would take a couple of weeks before I could start work."
The teachers say their cases highlight the inadequacies of the vetting system.
And recruitment agencies warn that moves to tighten up vetting of people who work with children could worsen the staffing crisis further.
From September, the new national Criminal Records Bureau will take over police checks on those who work with children.This may mean delays of up to a fortnight before workers are given clearance, according to the Recruitment and Employment Federation, which represents recruitment agencies inside and outside education.
David Tomlinson, head of strategy and resources at Havering, said that police checks had to be carried out but, if a supply teacher started work before checks were complete, schools had to ensure pupils were not put at risk.
"For example a headteacher or deputy head may frequently observe the class to watch what is happening, or they may not let that teacher into a school swimming pool," he explained.
A Scotland Yard spokesman accepted the process may take longer than it wished but hoped the new Criminal Records Bureau would help improve the situation.
GEORGE JAWORSKYJ 6 TES May 11 2001 www.tes.co.uk