12/01/2006

Kelly under fire in schools sex offender row

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has faced increasing criticism over revelations that individuals on the sex offenders' register have been allowed to work in schools.

Ms Kelly gave a statement in the House of Commons on Thursday, reiterating a pledge to conduct a review into the "small number" of cases. She also said that legislation to tighten restrictions on sex offenders working in schools would be tabled in Parliament next month.

However, the Education Secretary admitted that she did not know that "precise number" of cases where people on the sex offender's register had been granted permission to take up teaching jobs.

She told the Commons that this was one of the objectives of the review and that she would report the findings to MPs as soon as possible.

Ms Kelly's statement follows the revelation that a man was allowed to work as a PE teacher, in spite of the fact that he had received a police caution for accessing banned images of children on the Internet.

Paul Reeve was allowed to take the position at Hewett School in Norwich last month, but resigned after eight days when police contacted the school to warn that he posed a risk to children.

It is believed that Ms Kelly did not personally make the decision not to place Mr Reeve's name on List 99 - the register of adults who are banned from working in schools - and that a junior minister made the decision.

However, the government has not said who was responsible for the decision.

Following the revelation, it emerged that there were other cases similar to that of Mr Reeve. On Thursday, 'The Times' reported that at least ten sex offenders had been cleared to work in schools over the past three years, although no official figures have been confirmed.

A Downing Street spokesperson confirmed on Thursday that Ms Kelly had the full support of Prime Minister Tony Blair. However, she has faced increasing criticism from both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Conservative Shadow Education Secretary David Willetts said that she was losing the confidence of "millions of parents". Referring to the Bichard inquiry, conducted following the Soham murder case, which recommended a single list of sex offenders, he said: "Why did you fail to begin by setting out the basic principle that sex offenders should not be able to work in schools?"

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats education spokesperson, said: "Ruth Kelly has two weeks to answer the questions she failed to answer and satisfy Parliament and parents that she is on top of the situation." He said that parents needed to be convinced that any review would be tough enough to "sort this mess out".

(KMcA)










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