PEOPLE with convictions of assault, arson, and possession of drugs have applied to work at West Dorset schools – but education chiefs can’t tell us how many made it into the classroom.

The Echo has learned that 42 people with criminal convictions have applied to work in positions such as headteacher, teacher, classroom assistant and lunchtime supervisor since 2012 in schools between Puddletown and Lyme Regis.

Eight of those flagged up on the Disclosure and Barring Service database were convicted of drink driving.

Four have a criminal conviction for stealing from their employer.

Officials do not know how many of these people were taken on because recruitment is often up to individual schools.

In the UK there are certain crimes which automatically ban people from working in schools. But with the majority of convictions, applicants are able to explain themselves to a potential employer.

Angela Burr, Dorset County Council’s safeguarding standards advisor, said: “Since June 2013, DBS certificates will be seen only by the school recruiting to a post, not the county council, and it is the responsibility of the school to determine the suitability of an applicant.

“The law does not allow for blanket policies that say no-one with a criminal record can be employed.

“Just because an individual has a criminal conviction, this does not in itself mean that he or she is a risk to, or unsuitable to work with, children.

“Some offences will clearly preclude an individual from working or volunteering with children but for others the context of the conviction is important – for example, how long ago it was, how old was the person at the time, whether it was an isolated incident, whether person showed remorse, and so on.

“The government is clear in its new guidance: ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ that schools and governing bodies must act reasonably in making decisions about the suitability of the prospective employee.”

That same guidance says schools do not need to obtain an Enhanced DBS check – the highest level of disclosure – if the candidate has worked in a school or environment that brought them in to close contact with children or in any post in a school or college in the last three months.

But the new employer can request one if there are concerns.

In Britain there is a list of crimes which automatically bans people from working with children; for example, child sex offences, murder and kidnap.

Margaret Morrissey, of Parents Outloud, pictured left, said the government should engage more with schools to find out how many have employed people with convictions.

She said: “The excuse could be ‘I’m not like that, I just got drunk and made a mistake one time’.

“But that’s not acceptable when you want to work in an environment with children.

“The government needs to look closely at this and think about what the expectations should be.

“Being in the education profession is not just about a teaching degree; it’s about the way you live your life, the standards you uphold.

“There needs to be a discussion between the government and school governors who are involved with hiring and firing and see what the situation is so we can lift expectations.”