Scandal of the heads who appoint staff to Cambs schools without even the most basic of checks

AS many as one in eight schools across Cambridgeshire continue to recruit staff – including teachers - without even some of the most basic checks being made.

So alarmed has Cambridgeshire County Council become that its audit and accounts committee says it can only provide a “moderate assurance” opinion on the adequacy of control with regard to safe school recruitment.

And that, says the committee, is despite a number of reminder letters issued in recent years to school heads that still refuse to comply.

The committee discovered appointments in schools were being made before all relevant checks had been received.

Councillor Tim Stone, chairman of the audit committee, said: “When we are talking about safe recruitment we are talking of individual schools and although the majority are doing well, this small minority - possibly one in eight - is not doing well. That’s what rings alarm bells.

“We don’t have resources to audit all schools all at once. However it is not acceptable after all these years and all these reminders to find some schools are still not recruiting safely.”

County councillor Martin Curtis, Cabinet member for young people, said: “We keep repeating the message again and again - the procedures are there for a reason and for reasons in Cambridgeshire we know all too well.”

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Cllr Curtis said schools were allowed to appoint staff pending a CRB check but also had a ‘List 99’ check list which all schools should do prior to appointment.

“It’s a very quick half-hour check to make sure, for instance, the person being interviewed is not banned from teaching,” he said. “In some instances schools are not doing that - and we are finding references are not being taken up. It is unacceptable for schools to do that.”

Cllr Curtis said the audit committee became so alarmed by its findings it took its report to last month’s Cabinet meeting which resolved to instruct officers to continue to raise concerns raised with the chairmen of governing bodies.

He said the audit committee picked 10 schools and found some of them “wanting in respect of checks. Across the county, therefore, we have to assume there are many others. We can’t hold schools’ hands on this but unsafe employment practices are not acceptable.”

Cllr Curtis said he would now quiz every school he visits about their recruitment procedures and to see if they were following the safer recruitment processes.

Helen Maneuf, head of audit and risk management for the council, said safer recruitment audits had been in place since 2004 and in that time a sample of more than 70 schools had been tested.

She said a recent letter to heads had reminded them of their responsibilities to ensure the safety of children but for the third year running the audit committee had only been able to offer a “moderate assurance opinion” following weaknesses found in the system.

“This reflects the fact there are continuing variances in how far current expectations are implemented,” she said.

“Whilst most schools have continued to move closer to best practice, there are some isolated instances where there are still some fundamental shortcomings.”

Ms Maneuf said it was disappointing to note in the sixth year of this audit that a number of schools had still not fully implemented the county council’s advice.

Most concerning was the regular instances of schools allowing employees to begin work without completing the required set of pre-employment checks.

“If findings are representative of the wider picture, this area continues to remain a significant risk,” she said.

One member of the audit committee suggested at a recent meeting that schools were not following safe recruitment policies for cultural reasons “and that they need to be named and shamed”.

The councillor added: “Action needs to be taken immediately.”

Adrian Loades, executive director for children and young people, has been told to attend the committee’s January meeting to explain what the council is doing to address the problem.