‘Dangerous vetting loophole’ risky business for schools

by Sarah Bachman08 Jul 2016

There are warnings that temporary teachers’ minimal background checks – compared with applicants for permanent teaching roles – are putting children at risk.
 
Department sources say this represents a dangerous loophole that could “open the door to paedophiles” teaching in public school classrooms.
 
However, attempts to resolve this issue have been dismissed as “too much work” by Education Department bureaucrats.
 
According to the sources, who spoke to Fairfax Media, there had been at least one incident of an unvetted person gaining temp teacher work by using the valid department ID number of a friend’s spouse.
 
The man taught at the school for two days before the issue was discovered and he was removed from the position. 
 
“Some principals will be diligent, will call up [the Guardian of Children's Office] to check Working with Children,” said one department source.
 
“We absolutely know some are not doing this.”

However, Craig Petersen, deputy president of the NSW Secondary Principals Council (NSWSPC) told The Educator that the Department was thorough in its vetting processes and was “astonished” to read of the claims.
 
“I’m puzzled to have read about the [sources’] responses, because we don’t employ anyone who doesn’t have approval by the Department and hasn’t done a thorough working with children check,” he said.
 
“Whether they’re employed on a temporary or permanent basis, this makes no difference.”
 
Petersen added that the fact the school which identified the unvetted individual did so within two days showed the system was working.
 
According to NSW Education Department statistics, 20 teachers were fired last year and placed on a ‘not-to-be-employed’ list following incidents of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct involving students or other children.
 
In the Department’s most recent staffing agreement is a clause which provides principals with sole discretion to promote temporary teachers into permanent positions, providing they have worked at the school for two years or more.
 
However, the sources say that the practical level of vetting and background checks is often lower for temporary hires and – despite policy requirements – can amount to a part-time admin assistant and the principal seeing just a paper resume.
 
This was especially the case at hard-to-staff schools, they said.
 
A spokesman for the Department of Education said it was ultimately the responsibility of individual principals to ensure all checks had been done. 
 
“All NSW public school teachers must be approved to teach by the Department of Education based on their academic qualifications, be deemed personally suitable for teaching and satisfy probity checks before gaining employment in a public school,” the spokesman said.
 
“A national criminal history check for all offences, not only those relevant to working with children, is undertaken for all teacher applicants and applicants for child-related positions including temporary teachers.”
 

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