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Lessons for all the protectors

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for the image of teaching this week. The chief inspector's state-of-the-nation report rated teaching and management of schools higher than ever. But this was overshadowed in news coverage by the extra-curricular activities of a single supply teacher.

The agency TimePlan made a grievous error in placing Amy Gehring back in a school in spite of warnings from the Surrey child protection team. But agencies profiting at the expense of schools are easy scapegoats. The role of governments in bringing about the present supply arrangements and in the protection of children from abuse, should not be overlooked. It was the devolution of budgets to schools that finished off local authority supply pools, relinquishing the market to commercial agencies. And successive governments' contributions to the desperate shortage of permanent teachers enabled some agencies to profiteer.

It is ironic that TimePlan, far from being a cavalier operator, was among those calling for stricter regulation of agencies and better vetting. It was TimePlan's Chris King who pointed out in The TES last year that child protection checks on teachers can often be obtained instantly overseas whereas in this country they can take months.

The manager responsible for ignoring the warnings about Amy Gehring has been sacked. Chris King was not initially aware of those warnings but appears to have accepted responsibility for his subordinate's error and resigned - an example that ministers do not always follow.

If TimePlan had heeded the warnings about Ms Gehring, there was little to prevent her being snapped up by another agency. The protection against that is the efficiency of the shadowy dossier of banned teachers kept by the Department for Education and Skills and known as List 99.

In spite of receiving a letter from Surrey police on November 20, the department still had not placed her on the list by January 7 when new accusations arose. Agencies should heed the lessons of this case. But so should child protection teams and the DFES.

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