1,000 staff still await security checks

By Alison WithersMORE than 1,100 school staff in East Anglia are still awaiting official clearance to start their jobs, sparking fears of a fresh classroom crisis.

By Alison Withers

MORE than 1,100 school staff in East Anglia are still awaiting official clearance to start their jobs, sparking fears of a fresh classroom crisis.

The Criminal Records Bureau is still dealing with a backlog of checks on staff requested by schools – and there are concerns the problem could worsen over the coming months.

A spokeswoman for Essex County Council said it was still awaiting for checks to be completed on 669 staff who worked with children in schools, as well as escorts on school buses, lunchtime supervisors and school crossing patrols.

She added it was taking on average five weeks for the Criminal Records Bureau to give its clearance on school staff.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said it was currently waiting for 450 checks to be completed on staff.

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He said requests for checks on staff who worked unsupervised with children, such as teachers and teaching assistants, were currently taking about five weeks, while standard tests for people like catering staff and midday supervisors were taking about three weeks.

The Criminal Records Bureau was set up in March last year to take over the police responsibility of checking the history of employees in a range of professions, particularly those involving children.

But it became embroiled in controversy last autumn when a huge backlog grew up of education staff awaiting official clearance to begin their jobs.

By the beginning of the new school year in September, thousands of staff in Essex and Suffolk still needed to be vetted before they could start work.

The period from June to September is the peak time for movement of staff between schools – when the pressure on the Criminal Records Bureau is likely to be at its greatest for security checks to be carried out on new personnel.

Education bosses fear a repeat of last years delays and are outraged that the Government is planning to increase the fee for a check from July, as schools struggle with increases in staff costs and tighter budgets.

Essex county councillor Iris Pummell, cabinet member for children's services and schools, has written to the Department for Education and Skills in protest.

"Schools have enough pressure without all this on top. These checks should be made free, surely. It's a requirement of the Government," she said.

Mrs Pummell estimated last year's delays in security checks had cost Essex County Council £750,000 in making alternative arrangements to cover for unchecked staff.

She said its education department had budgeted £390,000 to spend on such arrangements this year, which had already almost all been spent.

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said the Department for Education and Skills had also advised school volunteers should normally be subject to the same checks as paid employees in similar positions.

That prompted a former governor of East Bergholt High School, which has for years used volunteers to invigilate at GCSE exams and SATS tests, to brand the security checks "political correctness gone too far".

Tony Allen, from East Bergholt, who used to co-ordinate the volunteers – who were usually village pensioners – said he was horrified when told this year's forms asked for two referees and included a note that the information provided could be subject to a police check.

He said: "What on earth do the powers that be imagine elderly invigilators are likely to get up to in front of 100 exam entrants with one or more teachers in attendance?"

A Home Office spokeswoman confirmed fees for Criminal Records Bureau checks were currently being reviewed, but said no new figures had yet been set and they would be subject to parliamentary approval.

She denied the Criminal Records Bureau would be facing another crisis this year and said it was now issuing on average 40,000 completed checks a week, compared with 24,500 last August.

alison.withers@eadt.co.uk

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