Heads in training to spot abusers

21st January 2005 at 00:00
Michael Shaw on how schools should sharpen up their recruitment practices

Headteachers have begun testing interview techniques designed to stop them appointing staff who pose a risk to children.

The training is part of a pound;185 million package of government initiatives to prevent a repeat of the mistakes which let Soham murderer Ian Huntley gain a job as a school caretaker.

It becomes compulsory next year and was recommended by Sir Michael Bichard's inquiry, which examined how Huntley had been employed at Soham Village college despite a string of sex-crime allegations Howard Gilbert, principal, admitted not checking the caretaker's references. But he had asked Huntley how he would react if a young girl developed a crush on him and been satisfied with his response.

At least 10 schools are testing training produced by the National College for School Leadership. Techniques range from spotting gaps in CVs to the types of responses which might suggest an applicant posed a threat.

Kerry Cleary, of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, gave evidence to the inquiry and has been advising the Department for Education and Skills on the training.

She said Huntley's case underlined the importance of basic recruitment procedures such as checking references and asking about gaps in applicants'

CVs. Mrs Cleary recommends asking referees specifically if they think the applicant would be suitable to work with children.

In interviews she suggests asking applicants questions where the answers would involve them talking about their own experiences, such as: "Tell us about a time, from any stage in your life, where you thought a child was being treated inappropriately and what you did."

"If you ask hypothetical questions like, 'Have you ever had sexual fantasies about a child?' you are going to get the obvious answer 'No'," she said.

"You have to try more open questions, which allow you to get an insight into their attitudes.

"For caretakers, you could ask what they would do if they were working and a child came up to them and began talking to them about their private life.

"A danger sign might be if they say they would want to take the child off and talk to them. At the other end of the scale, you might have concerns about someone who said, 'I'd tell them to go away'."

Mrs Cleary said interviewers could use their gut instincts and the applicant's body language to guide their questions but that they should not make judgements solely on these factors.

The DfES plans to spend up to pound;300,000 on the training which will be available online from April. By March 2006 every school interview panel must contain at least one person who has been on a short course.

The bulk of the pound;185m will go towards improving the system for recording criminal records and allegations.

By 2007 the Government hopes to set up a registration system which would involve every teacher having an ID card or licence showing they could work with children.

School inspections are also being changed from September to include checks on recruitment practices.

Sweden leads the way

Friday magazine 6

TIMELINE FOR CHANGES

January and February 2005 Trials of training to make school interviews more focused on child protection

March 2005 Final guidance for recruitment and selection in schools introduced

April 2005 Online training launched

July 2005 Every adult who works in schools to have a full, enhanced criminal check

September 2005 Office for Standards in Education inspectors to begin reviewing the safety and effectiveness of schools' recruitment processes

November 2005 Possible legislation introduced containing plans for a new registration system

March 2006 Trained person to be on all school interview panels

January 2007 Reciprocal arrangements with Australia, and possibly other countries, to check on teachers recruited from abroad

2007 Introduction of a new registration system likely, with identity cards or licences for all teachers

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