Schools ‘must carry out own background checks’

SCHOOLS must continue carrying out their own background checks on job applicants in support of garda vetting which can only detail criminal convictions, Children’s Minister Brian Lenihan said yesterday.

He was responding to concerns about the fact that gardaí cannot tell schools if a prospective employee was questioned about criminal matters that might affect their suitability to work with children. The availability of this so-called ‘soft information’ has long been sought by children’s organisations such as Barnardos and Fine Gael.

Such information can now be provided to employers in England in light of the Ian Huntley case in 2002. It emerged after his conviction for murdering Soham girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman — pupils at the school where he worked as a caretaker — that he was quizzed nine times by police, but never charged, in relation to sexual offences.

“The gardaí don’t compile lists of people who they have questioned nine times. They make up their minds whether to charge people and if they haven’t made up their minds to charge someone, they don’t habitually make lists of these people,” Mr Lenihan said.

But there may be some further assistance for schools and other employers in relation to background checks on staff.

“Something we’re examining is whether to introduce informal committees comprised of the Garda Síochána and local social services, who could work together to assess rumours of this kind and give some kind of guidance,” he said on RTÉ Radio 1.

“I wouldn’t like the idea to go out that because you’ve done a criminal record check, all is clear. It’s not. There is no substitute for checking out references, that’s the easiest way to hear about a rumour on a grapevine,” he said.

Mr Lenihan acknowledged on Tuesday that more staff will be needed by the Garda Central Vetting Unit (CVU) as it is asked to clear more people working with children in the coming years.

The unit is processing the last of 2,400 vetting application forms from newly-qualified teachers this week as the country’s 4,000 schools reopening their doors. The process has been facilitated by the Teaching Council and all new teachers should have letters stating they have been vetted by early September.

A further 80,000 teachers and other school staff will eventually be vetted, as will childcare staff and others with unsupervised access to young people.

Meanwhile, the Teaching Council is writing to second level teachers to verify their qualifications and other details for registration, which became the council’s responsibility in March.

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