40,000 teachers are yet to be vetted by gardai
MORE than 40,000 of the country's 60,000 teachers have still not been cleared by the Garda Vetting Unit, the Irish Independent can reveal.
But in a move designed to reassure parents and pupils, the Department of Education has drafted a circular to extend vetting to existing teachers who change jobs.
It means teachers who move to different schools, no matter how extensive their experience, will have to be vetted in advance.
But it could take up to four years to clear the backlog of teachers who remain to be cleared. The huge numbers involved have prompted calls for urgent legislation and additional resources to vet existing employees in schools.
School authorities last night hastened to reassure parents about the safety of their children in schools because of child protection guidelines and the Stay Safe programme.
But the Children's Rights Alliance said "we just don't know who is out there". Chief executive Jillian van Turnhout said vetting would not just identify those guilty of sexual or physical abuse but other crimes such as those involving violence.
Youth Work Ireland said the figures for unvetted teachers were surprising.
"It shows that a lot needs to be done before we have a comprehensive system of vetting for all those with substantial and unsupervised access to children and young people," explained its spokesman Michael Mc Loughlin.
Vetting of new teachers was introduced in September 2006, at the time of their initial registration with the Teaching Council. Almost 22,000 newly qualified teachers and those returning after an absence of more than three years have been vetted so far.
But most of those who began teaching prior to 2006 have not undergone vetting and there may be legal problems compelling them to do so.
"Lack of resources should not be the reason for failing to vet all staff involved with young people," said Michael Moriarty, general secretary of the Irish Vocational Education Association. However, the Catholic Primary School Management Association said that even if legislation was in place in the morning the Garda Central Vetting Unit, through no fault of its own, would not be in a position to process all of the vetting applications. This was due to a lack of information technology infrastructure and resources.
"It is expected that with the necessary IT infrastructure in place the vetting of existing teachers will commence in late 2010/early 2011," added the association.
The department said all schools should check employer references and probe any gaps in an employment record for new staff. This had been demanded by the Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) which said that a process designed to protect children should, as an example, start from the top down with principals.
"IPPN believes that in the interim, newly appointed principals should be included in the Garda vetting scheme, particularly where the principal is appointed from outside the existing staff," said Director Sean Cottrell.