'I was treated like a criminal'

5th December 2003 at 00:00
For Lisa Warshaw, completing a criminal records check has proved more than just an inconvenience - it has cost her thousands of pounds.

Despite being fingerprinted at Scotland Yard and flying half way around the world in an effort to prove she has nothing to hide, her supply agency is still refusing to clear her for work.

The saga began in April, when after 12 months' supply work with Hays Education Personnel, the experienced primary teacher took three months off to go to California to set up her own business. On her return she was surprised to find that Hays demanded she repeat the checking process.

Ms Warshaw said her surprise turned to frustration when the agency insisted on receiving clearance from the FBI for a spell she spent as a teacher in California 12 years ago. However, data protection laws in the US and its checking system, based on fingerprinting, meant that clearance was not readily available.

The delay in clearance cost the post-threshold teacher pound;135 for every day's work lost. She estimates that she has lost up to pound;12,500. At her agency's suggestion, Ms Warshaw paid Scotland Yard pound;25 to take her fingerprints and send them to the US, anexperience she described as humiliating. "I was treated like a criminal. You are told that the check does not imply suspicion but it certainly does not work like that in my experience," she said.

A well-wisher then gave her the money to fly out to America in another, unsuccessful attempt to speed up the process.

She contacted the Department for Education and Skills to complain about Hays' intransigence but was told that although it sympathised, it had no powers to intervene.

Legislation introduced last year gives supply teacher agencies the right to impose criminal checks on teachers for any reason.

Ms Warshaw later found work with another agency, Teach London, which did not insist on clearance for her American teaching.

"It feels horrible when people do something like this to you. It turns you off teaching. Why are agencies free to do their own thing with impunity when it costs me money?" she asked.

Caroline Foy, senior manager at Hays, said that Ms Warshaw's CV suggested that she had worked in the US many times during recent years. She said it was company policy to seek police clearance for any teachers who had worked abroad on a regular basis or for more than 12 months in the past five years. "The regulations are unclear but we have decided to go for a safety-first approach," she said.

MATT BUCK 31

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