Headlines: February 3rd, 2004

Head teachers are calling for radical changes in the checks made on people applying for jobs in schools, including extending the number of posts where vetting is necessary. The National Association of Head Teachers is today submitting evidence to the Bichard Inquiry into the vetting process for school staff, which was set up following the Soham murder trial.The Association says there is a need for unequivocal and comprehensive guidance on the posts for which particular levels of guidance are deemed to be necessary. It says it is not sufficient to consider only posts where staff would have day-to-day unsupervised access to children. There is a strong case for extending the mandatory Enhanced Disclosure to all support staff.

The NAHT says it is essential, too, that schools are made aware of information that emerges from disclosure. It is aware of a number of instances where the Local Education Authority, the route by which most schools access the Criminal Records Bureau Disclosure, has not passed information to the school. This, the heads say, is totally unacceptable.

Turning to so-called ‘soft information’ today’s submission to the inquiry says there is a strong case for clear, uniform procedures in determining what non-conviction information is released for the purpose of Enhanced Disclosure. It says there is too much uncertainty about the protection that should be given to individuals whose careers might be blighted by false allegations. It calls for a distinction to be drawn between ‘one off’ allegations and a pattern of alleged behaviour such as was the case with Ian Huntley. Head teachers also want the vetting process to cater adequately for overseas applicants so that issues that became apparent in the case of Amy Gehring, a Canadian teacher who was accused of offences involving pupils in this country, can be dealt with.

The NAHT lists a number of concerns that it wants to see addressed, including changes of identity and the use of pseudonyms by job applicants. It believes there should be a protocol, to which the Home Office, the DFES, Chief Police Officers and Head Teacher representatives are all parties. It believes that such a protocol would ensure that local checks by police comply with national guidelines.

David Hart, General Secretary NAHT, said the lessons of the Huntley case must be learned and heads should receive all the information they legitimately need before staff are appointed to their schools. At the same time, he said, it was crucial that job applicants who had been the subject of false and allegations should be protected from damage to their careers.