Hundreds of criminals with histories of serious offending have applied to become teachers in Devon and Cornwall during the last three years.
Figures uncovered by the Western Morning News today show convicted child abusers, violent thugs and drug dealers have all sought to take jobs in the region's schools since January 2009. In one case, a convicted prostitute also attempted to get a job working with children.
In total, applicants with a total of 1,335 convictions were vetted during regulatory checks by the Criminal Records Bureau.
Andy Woolley, South West regional spokesman for the National Union of Teachers, said: "I am not surprised by the number of people with convictions trying to get into our schools – but it just shows the system is working. The list of offences is very serious, so it must be reassuring to parents and staff to know that these people are failing to work alongside them and teach their children."
According to the statistics, prospective teachers with 592 convictions between them applied for posts in Devon and Cornwall in 2009. These included 76 convictions for driving while under the influence of alcohol, 45 for shoplifting and 32 for criminal damage.
The following year, 446 convictions were picked up by the CRB. Again, the majority were for drink-driving (68), theft (26), and shoplifting (21).
Checks also picked up applicants with convictions for indecently assaulting a girl, and indecent exposure. There were four convictions for possession of class A drugs, as well as one for "prostitute loitering" – being a sex worker.
Last year, 312 offences were detected. A total of 52 were for drink-driving, 22 were for theft, and 22 were for making a false statement or representation to obtain benefit or payment.
One criminal was vetted for wounding – among the most serious violent offences – while three convictions were for racial abuse and harassment.
The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, also reveal dozens of convictions for drugs possession, fraud and non-alcohol-related motoring offences.
Mr Woolley said the NUT had "no problem with CRB checks" because they "obviously work effectively". But he said he was concerned that some unproven allegations against current and prospective teachers would remain "on file", dissuading them from applying for new posts.
"Where we have a problem is CRB checks for teachers which show an allegation against them, which has shown to have no conclusive proof," he said. "It might be just a child with a grievance against a teacher, yet that mark can stay with them, even though they are innocent.
"What we'd like is a better system which would carefully identify those with a conviction or with a serious concern about a serious offence.
"We do not want to stop great people from becoming great teachers and making a difference. At the same time, we want the CRB check to show that every possible step is being taken to ensure those who present a risk to children are not getting into our schools."
A CRB spokesperson said the checks had helped to stop more than 150,000 unsuitable people from working or volunteering with children or vulnerable people nationally since their introduction.
He added: "Good recruitment practices, such as thorough reference checking, are a key responsibility for all employers, especially those working with children and vulnerable groups. Criminal records checks are just one of a range of tools to help employers make the right recruitment decisions."
It an offence to knowingly employ a person barred by the Independent Safeguarding Authority, as well as for a barred person to work or even apply to work with the vulnerable group from which they have been barred.
Asked to comment on the year-on-year decline in the number of checks testing positive for a conviction in Devon and Cornwall, the spokesman said: "It could be down to a number of reasons, such as fewer people applying for posts. There is nothing to suggest a failure by CRB staff to detect convictions."