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No practice in place to vet substitute teachers - Doherty

18 April, 2008

Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Senator Pearse Doherty has called on Minister for Eduaction Mary Hanafin to put in place a mechanism to ensure that no registered sex offenders can be used as substitute teachers. Senator Doherty was speaking after receiving a response to a Parliamentary Question from the Minister in which she states that responsibility for ensuring the suitability of individuals for substitute teaching lies with the boards of management of schools.

Speaking today the Donegal Senator said, "In response to a Parliamentary Question the Minister for Education Mary Hanafin has told me that when it comes to substitute teachers 'appointing staff is the responsibility of the board of management and it is for the Board to satisfy itself that a particular individual is considered suitable for appointment'.

"This is completely unacceptable. I had asked the Minister what practice has been put in place to ensure that registered sex offenders are not used as substitute teachers in schools and she has basically attempted to move the responsibility from the State to the predominantly voluntary school boards.

"There are currently 974 unqualified substitute teachers teaching in our schools. The Minister for Education does not know if any of these are on the sex offenders list. The fact that a registered sex offender could be teaching children is of grave concern.

"Teachers are supposed to be role models for young students and they are generally placed in high esteem by the children they teach. If a sex offender was to become a substitute teacher they would be in a seriously dangerous position with the potential to groom children for sexual abuse.

"The State has the ultimate responsibility for the health, welfare and protection of children. The Minister's attempts to wash her hands of responsibility for this and place it onto voluntary school boards are unacceptable. She must put in place a mechanism to ensure that no registered sex offenders can be used as substitute teachers.

"Extra Garda resources for the vetting of substitute teachers must be forthcoming. But we also need to begin a process to see the end of unqualified teachers teaching in our schools. Part of this must involve making more places available in teacher training colleges to get through the backlog of teachers awaiting to go to college and get qualified." ENDS

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