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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 19:11 GMT
School vetting controls tightened
Ruth Kelly
Ruth Kelly: "A root-and-branch reform"
Tougher controls on who is cleared to work with children have been set out by the government, following the furore over sex offenders working in schools.

A single list of people banned from working with children in England and Wales will be brought in under a bill called Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups.

The legislation will also enable parents to check whether private tutors or nannies are barred.

Employers who hire un-vetted staff could face 5,000 fines or jail.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said it was a fundamental reform of the system.

This bill brings forward root-and-branch reform ensuring we have a far more comprehensive and co-ordinated system
Ruth Kelly, Education Secretary

"Today's bill will introduce a 21st Century approach to the protection of children and vulnerable adults," she said.

"It will fundamentally reform and rebalance vetting procedures so that children's and other vulnerable people's safety is unequivocally the first priority.

"This bill brings forward root-and-branch reform I promised ensuring we have a far more comprehensive and co-ordinated system."

Online checks

Under the changes brought in by the bill, a new independent "central barring unit" will take all decisions on banning any person.

Key changes
Overall decisions on barring moved from ministers to independent body
New central vetting system replaces various check lists
Automatic ban on anyone cautioned for sex offences, not just those convicted
Employers who hire barred people face jail or fines of up to 5,000

At the moment, separate checks have to be made on List 99, a health service list currently operating under the Protection of Children Act, and the sex offenders' register.

The changes move the ultimate responsibility for barring individuals from ministers to an independent body.

The panel will be led by Roger Singleton, the former head of Barnardos. The DfES has announced the members will include

  • A police chief responsible for child protection
  • A child psychiatrist and expert on child sexual abuse
  • The head of the National Conferderation of PTAs
  • Head teachers' and college leaders' representatives
  • NSPCC executive
  • Directors of social services and children's services
  • A forensic psychiatrist

The bill also proposes that any employers who knowingly hire people who have been barred from working with children could face tough sanctions, including a five-year jail term or fines of up to 5,000.

The government says this will also cover companies which run internet chat rooms, and will ensure employers take their share of responsibility over who they hire.

The bill will allow employers to make secure, online checks on the records of up to eight million people who work with children.

Individual schools will also be able to run checks on existing employees as well as new recruits if they wish, under the new arrangements.

People cautioned for sex offences will automatically face a ban on working with children, not just those who have been convicted.

Broad support

Many of the changes being announced were published for public consultation in April 2005, following the Bichard inquiry into the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, Cambridgeshire.

They had not been implemented when the row over the employment of sex offenders broke out in January after revelations that the Department for Education had cleared a number of sex offenders to work in schools.

The measures will come in from 2007, officials say.

There is broad support for the changes. Mary Marsh, director of children's charity NSPCC, welcomed the bill but said concerns remained.

"Employers must do more than just tick the 'vetting box', as many abusers are not known to the criminal justice system," she said.

But the loophole surrounding overseas workers was worrying, as was the time frame, she said.

Michelle Elliott, director the children's charity Kidscape, said the changes would be a great step forward and would make children safer.

But she said parents, head teachers and charities such as her own had to accept their responsibilities and be vigilant.

"This does not mean paedophiles will stop trying to get into schools. They are always going to find a way through," she said.

Jerry Bartlett, from the teachers' union NASUWT, said children's safety was a concern for every decent member of society and that the creation of a single vetting list would "clear the fog" surrounding checks.

"But there must be a fair right of appeal for teachers," she added.

"School staff have all too frequently been the victim of false and malicious allegations."

One mother gives her views on the changes

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