Vetting scheme won't stop another Soham, says union

19th June 2009 at 01:00
Five-year registration process will cost Pounds 20k per secondary and may not weed out undesirables

Tough new regulations designed to protect headteachers from employing criminals or paedophiles are a waste of money and will cause more problems than they solve, a teachers' union has claimed.

The TES has learnt that Ofsted will fail any primary or secondary school that fails to register all its teachers with the Independent Safeguarding Authority's vetting and barring scheme - at a cost of Pounds 64 per staff member.

But the rules are confusing, could be misinterpreted by inspectors and will not stop undesirables being registered with the ISA, according to the National Association of Headteachers.

The union says inspectors with poor knowledge of regulations, or who confused government guidance with the law, have already wrongly failed at least two schools which then appealed against the judgment. They fear this situation will become more extreme when the vetting and barring scheme begins in July 2010.

It will take five years to register all school workers, and governors will also have to be vetted for the first time.

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 places responsibility for paying the registration fee on the individual, but it is anticipated that councils will bear the cost, estimated to be around Pounds 20,000 for an average secondary school.

Under the ISA scheme, which replaces the controversial List 99, the Department for Children, Schools and Families will hand responsibility for vetting to the quango. The ISA introduction has already been delayed twice.

Supporters of the new regulations claim they represent an improvement because an individual's records can be automatically updated, as opposed to the Criminal Records Bureau check, which is not amended over time. But all teachers will still have to register with the General Teaching Council and undergo a CRB check.

The new system also means that home tutors and those who are self employed, who are currently not checked by the CRB, can be vetted.

Tom Foster, assistant secretary in the NAHT's policy, politics and education department, says the introduction of the regulations has been "a bit of a shambles".

"We can't see a tremendous advantage to schools and are concerned about those who will have to pay the fees such as student teachers," he said.

"The target of five years for registration is optimistic."

The ISA allows applicants to apply, pay and be given a registration number before they are vetted.

Mr Foster said this would not prevent people like Ian Huntley, who murdered two pupils while employed as a caretaker at their school in Soham, Cambridgeshire, from being registered.

The NAHT is seeking a meeting with ministers to discuss this.

The longest-serving teachers, who may not have had CRB checks, will be registered first. Around 200 caseworkers will assess applications.

Teachers can appeal against judgments by disputing facts or by defending themselves - for example, if a criminal conviction dates from a long time ago or has no relevance to the job for which they are applying. At the second appeal, or upper tribunal, they can argue over facts or points of law only.

The ISA has been consulting with unions about the regulations.

Schools currently fail Ofsted inspections if they do not maintain a single record of checks carried out on staff.

An Ofsted spokesman said: "Any safeguarding failure has implications for the governing body and leadership and management overall and therefore in most situations is likely to lead to an overall effectiveness judgment of inadequate.

"The final decisions on all aspects of the new arrangements coming into force this September will be set out in the 'Framework for the inspection of maintained schools' and guidance for inspectors to be published later this month."

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