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100,000 Unchecked; Schools chaos over backlog in vetting staff.

Byline: DOROTHY LEPKOWSKA Education Correspondent

A CLASSROOM crisis was looming last night due to a backlog of criminal checks on around 100,000 teachers.

One school has already been forced to close and others sent children home owing to staff shortages.

Teachers' leaders blamed the Government for the chaos, insisting ministers were warned months ago the clearance checks would not be completed in time because a lack of resources at the Criminal Records Bureau, set up to carry them out.

The checks backlog at the CRB may also result in Welsh schoolchildren being turned away next week. Assembly shadow education minister Helen Mary Jones, of Plaid Cymru, said 130 teachers had not yet been cleared at Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council alone.

She said: "The problem extends to other authorities in Wales. If the Assembly does not intervene we will have a crisis on our hands next week when children go back to school after the summer holidays."

Pauline Jarman, AM for South Wales Central and leader of Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council, said schools might be forced to use staff whose backgrounds had not yet been checked, or stay closed.

Assembly education minister Jane Davidson said the CRB had only been operating for five months and had "teething problems". She added: "The safety of our children is vital and must not be compromised. It is important checks are completed."

The Secondary Heads Association said staff would have to make "abnormal arrangements" to cope with the vetting crisis.

Leader John Dunford added: "The Government underestimated the number coming into schools by a huge factor. That's why we've got an emergency. Up to 18,000 schools will start next week. There has to be more than half a chance many will not have had all their checks completed."

Schools in Leicester, where pupils were among the first to return after the holiday, have already been hit by the vetting chaos. One, Moat Community College, closed because some staff had not been cleared.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris voiced her fears about CRB staff levels to Home Secretary David Blunkett in May, but the backlog still grew.

The Home Office vowed to help the CRB clear the backlog, but said it would not put children in danger to meet the targets.

Concern over child safety has risen after the killings of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Ian Huntley, a caretaker at the friends' school, has been charged with their murder.
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 30, 2002
Words:409
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