Ministers have scrapped a scheme that ensures the rigorous vetting of staff by supply agencies, prompting fears it could put children’s safety at risk.
The Department for Education (DfE) announced last week that it would not continue with the Quality Mark beyond the end of the current contract on March 31 2013.
The scheme, which was set up in 2002, awards recruiters with a certification mark if they meet high standards and is currently held by 135 companies.
The decision means that it will become easier for recruitment and supply agencies to relax their procedures – or not carry some of them out at all – leading to staff not being properly vetted, and putting pupils at risk.
The decision was announced in an email from the DfE to recruitment and supply agencies. Signed by David Wright, the DfE’s head of teacher supply, it said that the Quality Mark had been “important in helping to drive up standards”.
However, it was time for the industry to make “its own arrangement to quality assure its own practices and procedures, including compliance with relevant legislation involving those who work with children, without the need for government involvement”.
SecEd approached the DfE for a further comment this week but had yet to receive a response as the edition went to press.
The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), which has managed the Quality Mark since it began, blamed the decision on government cuts.
Kevin Green, its chief executive, said: “This is a retrograde step and we will be making that argument to the department very robustly.
“In light of recent headlines and the renewed focus on the vetting of all those working with children, it is vital safeguards are maintained.
“Recruiters who supply teachers and the schools they do business with value the Quality Mark as both a visible and government-endorsed guarantee that adults entering their classrooms have been properly checked.”
Mr Green said it was short-sighted not to recognise that the programme provided a cost-effective framework for enhancing safe recruitment while also cutting bureaucratic burdens.
The decision comes less than a year after the DfE posted an article on its website about the government’s commitment towards ensuring supply staff in schools are “recruited and managed well, to allow them to give their best to schools”.
It said: “Maintaining standards in education recruitment is vital and the benefits of the Quality Mark to local authorities, agencies, supply teachers and the schools that they service are immense.
“Schools and teachers deserve high-quality agencies and this scheme will help both schools and teachers become more confident about the agencies they use. It will give increased confidence to schools, parents and pupils that staff supplied through agencies are recruited properly and have ongoing support.
“For agencies and local authorities, it will provide both assurance and official recognition that the highest standards of recruitment practice are being adhered to; and teachers will be confident that they have selected an accredited and reputable service that will add value to their experience as supply teachers.”
The Quality Mark set minimum standards for agencies and local authorities to reach in areas such as methods of recruitment and interviewing of supply teachers, the way they check and manage their performance, and how they stay at the forefront of changes in the teaching sector.
Jenny Rollinson, managing director of Randstad Education, one of the country’s largest supply agencies, said the withdrawal of the schools “could put the safeguarding of children at risk”.
“We welcomed the introduction of the Quality Mark following the tragic Soham case,” she said. “The very idea that any agency can supply temporary staff to schools without being held to account and externally audited is appalling.”
Ms Rollinson added that the government’s endorsement of the scheme had given it greater credibility and she feared that a replacement scheme implemented by the industry would not carry the same weight.
The REC said it would appeal to the DfE but was not confident the decision would be reversed.
Mr Green added: “We have to be realistic about the chances of ministers having a change of heart so we have already begun to develop our own audit scheme specific to the education sector that will preserve and continue the safeguarding achievements of the Quality Mark scheme.”
Last year the schools minister Nick Gibb said the scheme had made “a great deal of progress” in “raising the standard of supply teachers and ensuring that safeguarding and vetting checks are properly carried out by private agencies”.