Two instances in which sex offenders were found to be teaching in English schools have threatened the tenure of the nation’s highest-ranking education official and led her to announce an overhaul of the way teachers are identified as potentially harmful to children.
Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said last month that she would bar from working with children more individuals with sex-offense records, require criminal-record checks for all newly appointed school employees, and give independent experts the final say about who should be on the list of those banned.
“I deeply regret the worry and concern that has been caused to parents over the last few days,” Ms. Kelly said in a speech to the House of Commons. “I am determined to do everything I can to ease their concerns.”
A national furor arose early in the year after newspaper reports revealed that two sex offenders were working in English schools and that a third had been cleared to work in a girls-only institution.
The first instance to come to light involved a physical education teacher, who had admitted accessing indecent images of children via the Internet. He was hired at a school in Norwich, England, after an upper-level official in the national education department cleared him to work in schools. When police raised concerns because he was on a general registry of sex offenders, he was forced to resign after just eight days.
A second teacher was on neither the banned list nor the sex-offender registry because his conviction predated those safeguards. A third was on the banned list, known as List 99, but with the condition that he could work in an all-girls school because he had been convicted of possessing indecent images of boys.
Ms. Kelly, 37, has held the secretary’s job for less than a year and is charged with pushing through Parliament Prime Minister Tony Blair’s controversial measures for changes in school governance.
The United States, unlike England and Wales, has no single government registry of sex offenders nor a government list of those prohibited from working with children. The main safeguards against hiring those who might harm children are criminal-background checks.
A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 2006 edition of Education Week