Katherine Cooper is a qualified teacher, working as an office temp for pound;4.50 an hour and topping up her income with pub work at the weekends. She has been waiting more than six months for clearance from the Criminal Records Bureau so she can start her career.
"It's ridiculous," she says. "The Government is crying out for teachers, but the bureau, which is an arm of the Home Office, is holding everything up."
The CRB received her disclosure application form on August 7, 2002. Since then she has been in touch several times by phone and letter, but is still waiting. Ms Cooper estimates she could have worked as a supply teacher for 33 days last term, and at pound;97 a day plus pound;246 holiday pay, could have earned pound;3,446. "Over the past six months I have attended five interviews, in at least three of which I've been unsuccessful due to lack of experience. Had I been working as a supply teacher throughout the autumn term I might have had more success," says Ms Cooper, who wants to teach key stage 2.
A spokeswoman for the CRB said she could not look into Ms Cooper's case as it was confidential. The bureau claims most applications are being dealt with in five weeks, and aims to get that down to three weeks. Yet the spokeswoman admitted that of the 146,000 applications in the system, 100,000 are outstanding and have gone over the five-week mark. "Delays are often caused by omissions or mistakes in the form, either by the applicant or by the registered body that countersigns the application. We are encouraging people to apply by phone, as mistakes are less likely if you are being talked through the process by an adviser."
The bureau issues 45,000 disclosures a week. Its target times are three weeks for an enhanced disclosure and one week for a standard or basic disclosure. None of which helps Katherine Cooper, who says her most recent letter from the CRB informs her there is little hope of compensation for the delay.
Ms Cooper has had police clearance twice before for working as a classroom assistant and says she has a clean record. She has rung the CRB regularly to keep track of her application. "On September 17, they said the delay was because they hadn't had my previous addresses. I had supplied them, but as it's a separate sheet it's possible it had been lost between the CRB and my registered body. I resubmitted the addresses and the bureau confirmed it had them. I phoned every couple of weeks and was told it was being processed.
"Then I rang on November 1 and was astonished to be told it hadn't been processed. The next day I rang and was told they'd be putting a note on my application for it to be processed as soon as possible. On November 14, I was told my application was in its final stages and that the bureau delays were caused by the pressure of work on police forces.
"A month later I was told it was still in its final stages, and I've been told the same thing since. This is happening to lots of NQTs. I have a friend who has finally been given clearance after five months, but another friend was cleared in six weeks, even though he'd spent a year in Australia since leaving college."
Ms Cooper, who lives near Newquay in Cornwall, trained on the graduate teacher programme at Christ Church primary school in the London borough of Wandsworth. She'd been unable to get on to a PGCE course after her degree in music and theatre studies from Dartington College of Arts in Totnes, Devon, and so took a longer route into teaching. "I have worked hard to become a teacher. My degree wasn't great so I spent a couple of years as a classroom assistant in London, gaining experience to get on the GTP. It was a struggle, but it was what I wanted to do. Throughout my training I've been told I will make an excellent teacher. I've done everything I can and now I'm being let down.
"This is a blow to my finances as well as my career; I have debts from my time as a classroom assistant. There aren't that many jobs in Cornwall and I need to be able to do supply so I can offer more experience. I'm not giving up."
Anyone who needs to be talked through the application form should call the CRB application line on 0870 9090844
How the checks work
The CRB was set up in March 2002 as a one-stop clearance system pooling information held by the police, the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills. There are three levels of disclosure.
* The basic disclosure can be held by the individual concerned and is a record of all convictions not yet spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
* The standard disclosure contains details of all convictions held on the police national computer - current and spent - as well as cautions, reprimands and final warnings.
* The enhanced disclosure includes a check on local police records. The police may release any additional information that might be relevant to the post.
* The standard and enhanced disclosures are applied for jointly by the applicant and a registered body such as a school, an LEA or a recruitment agency. Information can be sent separately to the registered body and not be revealed to the applicant.
* Students and trainee teachers are likely to have lived at several addresses. The bureau stresses that it's important to include them all.