Risks need to be balanced

The safety of children in schools is paramount, not least because parents are compelled to send them there. Anyone concerned about the risks posed to their child by adventurous or after-school activities can simply withhold their consent. But they have to send them to school, where they are entitled to expect them to be as safe as professional care can make them.

The Government was right, therefore, to insist on proper checks on those who work in schools. In their wisdom, ministers decided that only central government could ensure that these were properly carried out. They could, in the case of teachers, have left this to the General Teaching Councils.

That made it all the more important that the Government ensured the mechanisms for making these checks were in proper working order. This it failed to do. And yet The TES has been publishing warnings for months that they are not. Rather than fix them, the initial response was to relax the requirements. Staff were to be allowed to start work pending full police checks provided they were not on the Department for Education and Skills'

List 99.

But after the terrible events at Soham, the Government decided this would not do. Late in August, just two or three weeks before the new school year began, it insisted again on full police checks before new staff could set foot in the classroom. And in spite of government reassurances to the contrary, the privatised Criminal Records Bureau failed to meet the demand for clearances in time.

Thousands of children have been turned away from school unnecessarily at the start of term as a result. The Government must hope - as must we all - that none of these children denied the relative safety of their classroom is abducted or meets with an accident as a result. New teachers, allowed into schools but quarantined from pupils or chaperoned, must endure the discomfort of being paraded as guilty of child molestation until proven innocent.

In these circumstances, heads and local authorities are right - courageous even - to modify or ignore DFES advice in balancing the relative risks.

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