45,000 teachers slip vetting net
Calls for tighter laws protecting pupils after details of loophole emerge
Published 04/03/2011 | 05:00
AS many as 45,000 teachers could escape garda vetting on their suitability to work with children because of a loopohle that gives them the right to refuse the checks.
Current legislation allows older primary and secondary school teachers to avoid the process -- despite plans to start vetting them later this year.
A total of 25,000 newer teachers who registered with the Teaching Council since 2006 have already been checked for any previous convictions or prosecutions.
However, no checks have been conducted on teachers who were automatically registered with the council when it was formally established that year.
The council said a lack of resources has delayed the roll-out of vetting to these older teachers until now.
Under the garda vetting procedures, details of all convictions and prosecutions are disclosed to the school -- with any crimes or allegations relating to child protection being of paramount importance as they would almost certainly preclude someone from working with children.
Sources confirmed that as long as the older teachers pay their annual registration fee of €90 to the council and remain in their existing school they can avoid vetting.
Now pressure is building up to amend the Teaching Council Act 2001 to link vetting with the annual renewal of registration. The council wants the legislation to ensure that all teachers working in Ireland have been vetted -- with the process repeated every number of years. It is seeking extra staff to help collate and process the applications to the Garda Vetting Unit.
Unions said last night that tightening up the vetting process should be a priority for the new education minister.
The council is understood to have drafted wording which it wants the new minister to enact as soon as possible.
In addition it is asking the minister to sign the order "commencing" Section 30 of the act which requires all teachers to register with the council before they get paid.
Registration with the council is not mandatory -- although non-membership would most likely make it harder for a teacher to find employment in a school.
The outgoing Education Minister Mary Coughlan said that as much as possible of the vetting process should be done electronically rather than relying on the current paper-based approach.
At a meeting this week, the Catholic Primary School Management made it clear that it wants individual schools to have a role as well in the final process for individual teachers.
The department said that while vetting is important, it is only one element of thorough recruitment and selection procedures.
"As part of robust child protection arrangements, it is also important for school authorities to seek and follow up on references and to satisfactorily account for any unexplained gaps in employment records/ curriculum vitae," it added.