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Wednesday, 4 September, 2002, 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK
History of checks U-turns
Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris: "Not given assurances"
The Department for Education has issued a string of guidance to education employers during 2002, over the issue of vetting job applicants for their suitability to work with children.

One constant is that they all have to have a List 99 check.

List 99 is a database maintained by the Department for Education of people deemed unsuitable to work with children.

Checking it automatically cross-checks a similar Department of Health list.

The variations have come in the guidance on getting information from the police about a person's criminal record, if any, and other intelligence that might be on file about them.

Pre-May 2002

Under the old system, employers sought police checks locally.

Because these could take months, it was standard practice for people to start work subject to a satisfactory clearance coming through later from the police, provided their List 99 check was clear.

And because police forces found the checks burdensome, official guidance told employers they should normally "consider" having a check done only on people applying for posts entailing "a substantial level of access to children which may also be unsupervised, and will be regular or sustained".

Examples included teachers, residential staff in boarding schools, para-medical staff, caretakers, independent visitors to childcare organisations, education welfare officers and psychologists, local authority workers in nurseries, playgroups, youth and community groups.

The guidance was that checks "should not normally be sought" on administrative staff, bus drivers, cleaners, dinner assistants, ground staff, parents and other supervised helpers, and - crucially, in view of the current backlog - student teachers and other trainees except in nursery schools.

May 2002

The Criminal Records Bureau had started work as a central point for all checks and the system was tightened up.

All applicants for posts involving working with children were to seek clearance via the bureau - known as "disclosure" - before starting work.

The positions included any work in a school or a sixth form college, on day care premises, or in a children's home or hospital, any position in which the normal duties include caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of children under the age of 18, any position involving unsupervised contact with a child under arrangements made by the child's parents, school or day care provider, and a position as a governor of a school or sixth form college.

24 May: First U-turn

Because the Criminal Records Bureau could not cope with the demand, the Department for Education announced "interim arrangements".

These were that - as under the old system - classroom staff could start work pending completion of their police checks, provided they were not on List 99.

This exemption did not apply to contractors, ancillary staff such as caretakers, or school governors - they still had to be checked first.

27 August: Second U-turn

Following the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, the Department for Education told local education authority personnel officers: "The interim arrangements will cease to apply from the start of the autumn term".

It said it was crucial that the full CRB checks should be completed "before the person is deployed to work with children".

It made clear that if someone had been checked previously they did not need to be checked again just because they were starting a new job, provided they had not had a break of service of more than three months.

But this seemed to do little to ease the problem.

In a further clarification issued on 30 August, the department stressed: "We do not advise that people should be allowed to work unchecked if they are supervised."

4 September: Third U-turn

As the autumn term began, schools had to turn away pupils or close altogether in some cases because they did not have enough staff who had been vetted to put in front of classes.

Some education authorities said they would ignore the guidance and let people work, provided they were supervised.

The Education Secretary, Estelle Morris - conspicuous by her absence throughout the mounting crisis - called teachers' unions to a meeting at 1800 BST.

She then announced that she was reverting to the old system.

She said: "I was not given assurances that made me confident that the present disruption to school would not continue for some time.

"I have therefore decided to allow teachers and teaching assistants to work in schools at the head teachers' discretion after receiving List 99 checks. The further CRB checks would then follow."

... as amended

A corrected version of the statement was issued by her department, saying this should have read "teachers and support staff".

A spokesperson said this meant everyone - teaching assistants, volunteers, caretakers, bus drivers, crossing patrols, and so on.


School delays

Policy issues

Early warnings

See also:

04 Sep 02 | Education
04 Sep 02 | Education
04 Sep 02 | Education
01 Sep 02 | Education
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