Under fire amid a row over sex offenders in schools, Britain’s embattled education minister has announced a tightening of rules governing child protection in the classroom. Ruth Kelly said anyone guilty of a sex offence against a child would be banned from the education system. “I deeply regret the worry and concern that has been caused to parents over the last few days,” she told the House of Commons.
“I am determined to do everything I can to ease their concerns.” The minister admitted that in the past her department had cleared several sex offenders to work with children. “The review I set in place has identified 10 cases since 1997,” she said. “These individuals pose no threat to children.” However the opposition Conservatives fuelled calls for the minister’s resignation. “I believe that the Secretary of State is an honourable person,” said their education spokesman David Willetts. “But it must be for her and her conscience whether she is capable of regaining the confidence of parents and teachers who have suffered such anxiety, concern and uncertainty over the past 10 days.” The Conservatives believe recommendations following the high-profile jailing of school caretaker Ian Huntley for the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002 have not been acted upon quickly enough. This month’s scandal erupted after it was revealed the education department had allowed a teacher, who had a police caution for downloading child pornography, to work in a school. Ruth Kelly announced that two separate lists used to record the names of sex offenders would be combined into a single register of those barred from working with children.