“Thousands” of convicted sex offenders could be working in schools – because a “significant loophole” in the law allows them to change names, “go under the radar” and become teachers, a charity claims.
The Safeguarding Alliance charity says it is aware of such cases internationally, and has highlighted the case of a convicted paedophile in Blackburn who it said changed his name so he could volunteer to work with children at a mosque – despite a court order banning him from working in any educational setting.
The alliance is now calling for the law to be changed to remove the automatic right of sex offenders to change their name online by deed poll – and instead make it a requirement that they apply to a court.
Its campaign is being backed by an influential Conservative MP and committee chair. But the Department for Education insists that existing safeguarding procedures take account of name changes.
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Safeguarding Alliance chief executive Emily Konstantas said: “Convicted sex offenders are able to achieve qualifications in their new name in order to enter the teaching profession or an education setting.
Sex offenders changing their names
“Additionally, they are able to obtain a clear DBS (disclosure and barring service) [criminal record] check. Essentially, this means potentially there could already be someone in a school, charity or other setting who is a convicted sex offender using a new name to work alongside children or vulnerable adults."
She told Tes: “At present, we have no way of knowing how many sex offenders are working in schools – there could be thousands – that’s how serious this is.”
However, the DfE said the Home Office reserved the right not to issue a document in a new name to a registered sex offender, and said current DBS checks required that employers must ensure applicants declare all previous name changes.
The DfE also highlighted the Change of Name Guidance 2016, which it says is designed to make it more difficult for people to change their identities to support criminality.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Schools and colleges are safe places and must – and do – adopt recruitment procedures that help deter, reject or identify people who might be unsuitable to work with children.
"Registered sex offenders are subject to strict notification requirements, which require them to tell the police of any name change within three days. The failure to do so is a criminal offence with a maximum prison sentence of five years.”
But Ms Konstantas said part of the problem was that the onus was on the offender to act with honesty.
She said: "The DBS form asks the offender whether they have held any other names, again putting the onus of the offender to declare the truth.
"If the offender does not declare a name change to their employer, and provides all the required and legal documentation in their new name, an employer would have no reason at any stage to believe or suspect that there was ever a previous name held."
Meanwhile, Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, has also expressed concern about the issue in a letter to home secretary Priti Patel in which he highlights the issue as a “matter of public interest” and says “the safer recruitment process is being undermined to the point of rendering it redundant”.
He states: “The process by which a convicted sex offender or criminal can change their name by deed poll is far too simple, inexpensive, unregulated and can be carried out from prison. The name change forms make no provision that a sex offender must declare that they are a convicted criminal.”
The charity is now sending a letter to all schools, calling for them to check a potential staff member’s attested birth certificate – which it says is the only document which cannot be changed by deed poll – against other documentation such as passport and drivers’ licence.