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Ruth's nine lives...
Ruth's nine lives

Education secretary Ruth Kelly is widely believed to have come close to losing her job over the row over paedophiles working in schools.

However, few children's services managers hold her personally responsible, even if councils themselves have also been feeling the heat since the furore blew up, as they have to co-ordinate the local vetting process for school staff.

'What has sometimes been presented as a not very robust system has actually been more to do with poor judgments,' a Midlands director explains.

For example, the Department for Education & Skills allowed one man to continue teaching girls because his offence was against boys.

The director continues: 'Underlying this seems to be a reluctance on the part of key people to accept that the danger is a real one and their first duty is to protect children and not to defend an individual's right to work.'

What would help would be clearer advice from the government, says another: 'The HR advice to schools and councils themselves needs to be clear and unequivocal.'

One suggestion is that all prospective staff have their passport, birth certificate, employment history and references checked, and that criminal record bureau checks should be repeated every three years.

Given the concerns about DfES judgment, perhaps there is also a case for greater checks on the decision-making skills of ministers.

Money matters

Less controversially, the issue of money is also stressing directors out. With schools funding ring-fenced, other services are feeling the pinch.

One director complains that his department (and no doubt local children) is paying the price for his council's 'historic' policy of keeping council tax levels low, to avoid capping.

He says: 'The government won't give you as much grant as before and you can't raise any money from the local community, so where is it we're supposed to find the money?'

However it's not just (the lack of) youth funding which is on their minds. Pensions are also concerning managers.

With councils expected to become the commissioner, rather than the direct provider, of many children's services, many directors fear for their staff's pension security if their posts are to be transferred under the auspices of the voluntary sector.

'I just cannot get sufficient guidance on pensions,' says one southern director who is keen to take up the challenge of outsourcing more staff.

If the government is to engage the voluntary sector more in delivering public sector services, it will have to sort this out - or face the reality of staff refusing to shift.

To join the children's services Insider e-mail All views are published anonymously.

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