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40,000 teachers in our schools have not been through garda checks

MORE than 40,000 teachers are working in schools around the country despite having no official garda clearance, the Herald has learned.

New figures show that, despite major pledges to boost child protection in the education sector, more than half of serving teachers are still not properly vetted.

Education bosses are understood to be extremely concerned at the slow pace of vetting. Some 40,143 serving teachers have yet to undergo a criminal background check with gardai, according to information obtained by the Herald.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, inset, said that the department is working with gardai to ensure that teachers are vetted "as quickly as possible". But the massive figure of unvetted teachers has been described as "beyond belief" by Fianna Fail's Averil Power.

Since 2006 all teachers have been subjected to a strict garda vetting process. However, the scheme has yet to be extended to the majority of senior teachers.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act state:

•Strict new rules have been rolled out relating to sports instructors and volunteers -- but tens of thousands of serving teachers are still unvetted

•A Government circular in November 2010 said that the vetting process for existing teachers was due to commence in early 2011

•Just 39,256 teachers of a total of 79,399 were garda vetted by the end of 2012 -- less than half of the teaching population.

Fianna Fail's Seanad Education spokesperson Averil Power said that she believed parents will be "completely shocked" at the news that more than 40,000 teachers are without garda clearance.

The Teacher's Council, which has control of the registration of teachers, said it is "keen" to ensure all members are vetted.

"It is important to note, however, that there are a number of other safeguards in place in every school relating to child protection. All schools are required to have a child protection policy and must implement the Children First guidelines."

And a spokeswoman for Ruairi Quinn said that the department staff are working to ensure the vetting takes place "as quickly as possible".

noconnor@herald.ie