Confidence of our concerned parents is vital'

PUBLISHED: 11:29 19 January 2006 | UPDATED: 11:27 04 May 2010

South East Cambridgeshire MP Jim Paice

South East Cambridgeshire MP Jim Paice

MP Jim Paice writes for the Ely Standard WHEN all the facts came out after the Soham tragedy the universal cry from ministers, myself and everyone else was that never again should children be put at risk from the people working with them. Most people, at

MP Jim Paice writes for the Ely Standard

WHEN all the facts came out after the Soham tragedy the universal cry from ministers, myself and everyone else was that never again should children be put at risk from the people working with them.

Most people, at least in this area, would have assumed that anyone on the Sex Offenders Register was automatically barred from working in schools.

As recent media stories have shown, this is emphatically not the case, and parents are understandably anxious to know how many sex offenders are currently working as teachers, and whether any are employed at their children's schools.

It is worrying that a registered sex offender was given ministerial approval to become a PE teacher at a school in Norfolk.

But as details of similar cases emerge, it has become clear that we are dealing not with an isolated error of judgement, but with a more disturbing failure on the part of the Government to prevent people guilty of sexual offences from working with children or to implement key recommendations of the Bichard Inquiry, which was launched to tighten child protection measures after the terrible events in Soham.

One of these recommendations was that there should be a single register of sex offenders to bring together all the relevant information held on individuals in a way that is easily accessible for employers.

Currently, the Government operates a complicated regime, including seven "data sources" which is beyond anyone's understanding.

We were told last week, for example, that "where a teacher is convicted of one of a number of specified offences they will automatically be included on List 99, which bars them for life from working in schools".

However it has since emerged that an individual on this register was given permission to teach in an all-girl school, despite a conviction for possessing indecent images of boys five years earlier, because he "had no interest in girls".

In another case, a convicted molester was given permission to work with children aged 14 and over.

Despite promising 18 months ago to "urgently consider" Sir Michael Bichard's recommendations, only now, after sustained questioning by the Conservatives, the media, and the public, has the Government found parliamentary time for legislation to tighten the system for vetting.

Nobody suggests that ministers don't care about child protection, but it is quite clear they have not got a grip on their jobs.

Last week Ruth Kelly said that child protection was a "top priority".

She was told that her position wassafe and that she retained the confidence of the Prime Minister.

What the Education Secretary really needs to command is the confidence of millions of parents who will be deeply concerned that she has failed to ensure basic standards for people who work with children in schools.

We must quickly establish exactly how many sex offenders have been cleared to work in schools, and the whereabouts of them.

The fact that it has taken so long for the Education Secretary to provide information relating to these extremely sensitive decisions is extraordinary, and raises serious questions over the level of monitoring these individuals are receiving.

In addition, the Government must hold an immediate and independent review of all decisions by ministers which have resulted in sex offenders securing jobs in schools.

This should be followed up with a streamlined system of blacklisting offenders, which both parents and teachers can clearly understand.

Until this happens, parents across the country will continue to be deeply concerned about the safety of their children at school.

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