Vetting not fast enough for MSPs

16th July 2004 at 01:00
The Scottish Executive must translate its "high-level" policies on child protection into reality to ensure change takes place on the ground.

This is one of the many conclusions of the parliamentary education committee's inquiry on child protection, whose report was issued last week, which also echoes education authority criticism of Disclosure Scotland.

The agency, which is responsible for vetting those applying to work with children, including teachers, was charged by the committee with "significant delays" of up to 12 weeks in processing cases - against its official target of turning round 90 per cent of applications within 14 days.

This will have discomfited Peter Peacock, Minister for Education and Young People, who gave an assurance to the committee that cases are being turned around in two to three weeks.

Robert Brown, convener of the committee, urged Disclosure Scotland to be speedy as well as thorough, and said its turnaround time must decrease quickly. "We are also concerned that this target neglects 10 per cent of disclosure applications, and propose that for these there should be a time limit of one month."

Colin Dalrymple, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said there had been serious problems in appointing staff to schools because of delays at the agency. But he said there had been recent improvements.

An Executive spokesperson said it shared the concern that Disclosure Scotland must sustain performance improvements. A high volume of applications had led to a backlog, but this was now being tackled as the Executive had authorised the organisation to expand from 64 staff to 132.

The Executive is also drawing attention to the high volume of errors in applications which had also delayed the processing of cases. "Ministers will continue to monitor the situation closely," the spokesperson said.

At the other end of the spectrum, MSPs criticised the number of unnecessary checks. These include multiple applications required to be made by the same individual and checks on parents helping out at PTA events.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council had complained that calls for checks on PTA helpers are growing, despite its advice to members and the view of many local authorities that this is unnecessary. The council has been unable to persuade the Executive to clarify the position and the education committee urges it to do so.

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