Criminal checks are not enough, says Soham chief

Cambridgeshire director urges schools to keep child protection foremost in their minds, reports Karen Thornton

CHECKING the criminal records of new staff is not enough to ensure pupils are safe, according to Soham's schools chief.

Andrew Baxter, Cambridgeshire's director of education, has written to the county's headteachers urging them to review their recruitment policies and procedures to ensure maximum safety for children. He has also suggested they write to parents reassuring them that all staff have been fully checked or, if not, that other measures are in place "to ensure the safety of our pupils".

The usual checks had been carrried out in respect of the two people charged in connection with the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells.

Ian Huntley, 28, was the caretaker at Soham village college. He appeared at Peterborough magistrates court this week, to have a charge of perverting the course of justice added to that of murder.

His partner, Maxine Carr, 25, a former classroom assistant at the girls'

primary school, St Andrew's, is accused of perverting the course of justice.

Mr Baxter's letter says: "Criminal record checks are just one contribution to the aim of keeping our schools safe. Equally important are schools'

broader staff recruitment and supervision arrangements and their approach to child protection and maintaining a protective ethos."

For example, schools need to record and check complaints which were not taken to the police and take up references.

Mr Baxter paid tribute to the "exemplary and inspiring" work of Geoff Fisher and Howard Gilbert, the headteachers of St Andrew's primary school and neighbouring Soham village college respectively. Prayers were said this week at a short assembly marking the start of the new term at St Andrew's and two white doves were released. Mr Fisher told pupils Holly and Jessica "will always be with us in our hearts and minds".

Both sets of parents attended, and Jessica's mother Sharon returned to her job as a classroom assistant at the school.

Soham college started the new term with a reassurance that the police are as sure as they can be that the girls were not killed in its school buildings. The caretaker's house, a garage and outbuilding remain sealed and screened off.

Counsellors were on standby near the schools as they opened this week, but as The TES went to press they had not been called upon to support staff or pupils.

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