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The price is right, says CRB director

No apologies as criminal checks for teachers - once pound;12 - rise to pound;29 next month. Michael Shaw reports

JOHN O'Brien, the mild-mannered director of the Criminal Records Bureau, is unapologetic.

A rise in the cost of teacher checks from a service still viewed by many schools as incompetent has not endeared it to headteachers coping with a funding crisis, nor to supply agencies.

But Mr O'Brien defends raising the pound;12 fee to pound;29, explaining that checks are three times more expensive than predicted.

"These checks provide safer recruitment to ensure that people who apply for sensitive posts in schools and other areas are suitable to work in them - it is not an unreasonable fee to get that assurance," he said.

Mr O'Brien became CRB director last July, just weeks before the fiasco over teacher vetting hit the headlines, and until now has remained out of the limelight, keeping busy at its Liverpool headquarters. The 43-year-old, who has worked in the private and public sector, predicted problems with teacher checks early on. "It was something I knew we were going to have to tackle," he said.

His own criminal record is clean, apart from a handful of spent speeding convictions.

And his CV contains the ideal mix of public and private sector work for the job which pays up to pound;100,000 annually for managing the CRB, which is run by the Home Office in partnership with Capita.

He has worked for the Department for Trade and Industry, local authorities and private companies including Deloitte and Touche, and the business process company HBS.

Under his management, the CRB has increased its capacity for carrying out checks from 24,500 a week to more than 60,000, but in March the service had still failed to meet seven out of eight targets.

"I'm not denying there were issues fairly early on, but we are now just over 11 months into the process and we've got a stable operation," he said.

Mr O'Brien insists there will be no repeat of last year's vetting fiasco because of the CRB's increased capacity and its ability to offer basic checks for urgently-needed staff in 48 hours. He said a surge in education-related applications in recent weeks showed heads and local authorities were getting better at sending in applications at least four weeks early.

"So long as we keep telling people that schools should get the applications into us at least four weeks ahead, it will be seamless," he said. "Nobody will talk about a schools crisis."

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