Key Points:

Teachers with a history of sex abuse, assaulting children, and drug dealing are still working in classrooms without parents' knowledge - and the teacher watchdog is being hampered by privacy red-tape.

The Government says it will now act to remove Privacy Act brick walls, which have long prevented the Teachers Council from obtaining information about the disgraced teachers and others from the Ministry of Education.

Official documents released to the Herald on Sunday reveal concerns over the monitoring of teachers with a history of problems, although the minister's office and council have played these down.

Last October, this newspaper revealed teachers with a range of problems - including convictions for battery of an 11-year-old, importing ecstasy and supplying cannabis to minors, sexual abuse of a teen girl, and admitting to sex with students - had been allowed back into classrooms.

At the time, the council reassured parents, saying they were closely monitoring the teachers, some of whom were working under strict conditions. They refused to name them.

The newly released documents paint a different picture.

In a letter to Education Minister Steve Maharey after the newspaper report was published, then council chair Joanna Beresford said the council needed a datashare programme with the Ministry of Education.

"The requirements of the Privacy Act have been cited by the Ministry for refusing the information we have been seeking for many months. This information is essential to the Council to enable it to track the employment of teachers, such as those cited in the Herald on Sunday (22 October 2006)."

Two days before that letter, Beresford told Maharey in the council's official report that the council was satisfied with its monitoring procedures. She did not mention the datasharing issue.

Since 2003, 37 teachers have been charged with serious misconduct but allowed to keep working, subject to strict conditions that the Teachers Council is supposed to monitor.

The Teachers Council has the teachers' names and the Ministry of Education has a national payroll database that shows which school they are at, but it refuses to share it. The council has no other efficient means of knowing where they are teaching.

Another document obtained by the Herald on Sunday under the Official Information Act indicates big gaps in the council's monitoring systems - although the council denies this and says its monitoring is robust.

The internal memo, written by legal administrator Raewyn Ogilvie and sent to council director Peter Lind on October 30 last year, discussed six of the worst-offending teachers.

"I cannot find any evidence of the registration team monitoring conditions," said Ogilvie.

"There also appears that there are problems in the monitoring of the conditions placed on a teacher's registration either by the Complaints Assessment Committees (CAC) or the Disciplinary Tribunal."

Ogilvie's memo said that of the six cases she examined, only one had the required "subject to conditions" note next to his name on the public register.

Lind said this was not the case and Ogilvie had later spoken to him about the system and decided it was appropriate. He said she had only been in the job for two months when she wrote the memo.

But Steve Hocking, principal of Kawerau College, said the system was "limp". Any teacher "could quite happily and merrily be a paedophile" and the principal hiring them would never know.

In July, Hocking unwittingly hired a man who had been charged with serious misconduct after posting pornography of himself online, with notes asking girls "the younger the better" to contact him.

Three weeks later Hocking heard about the teacher's history through the grapevine. "To this day, if I'd followed the normal Teachers Council process I would be none the wiser. That's a real concern."

He said there was nothing to stop that teacher going on to work in other schools - and those principals would be "blind" to what he had done.

The 37 teachers' offences included having sex with a student, masturbating on a head girl, sexually abusing a child, assaulting an 11 year-old and playing strip poker with students on a school camp.

Last week Lind and Maharey maintained that all 37 teachers had been properly monitored.

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said last week that if her office had known about the tracking issue earlier, "I'm quite sure we would have been one of a number of voices saying 'Let's get this fixed'."

Shroff said she first heard about the problems in April. Her office had decided that there was reason for change, but legislation was required to authorise that.

"Once you get into that process it just takes quite a time."

Maharey said on Friday that he would be introducing new legislation to allow data-sharing.

He played down concerns that a lack of data-sharing had been affecting the council's ability to track teachers it was supposed to be monitoring.

He said the two issues - the data-sharing and the teachers working under conditions - "had absolutely nothing to do" with one another.

Maharey said there was no conflict between the council telling him about the datashare issue on the morning of October 24 - and him describing the monitoring system as robust in Parliament that afternoon.

He said he had asked the council whether there was anything he could do that would be useful to them, and they had suggested data-sharing. "Yes, I was assured that they are monitoring these teachers and yes, that is the case."

Lind said that the Ministry and the council had taken the data-sharing issue to the Privacy Commissioner and a paper to try to change the legislation which would be brought before Cabinet "very shortly".

"It would certainly add a further check and balance," he said.

Principals say it will still be very difficult for principals to find out the full reasons behind any 'subject to conditions' note on a teacher's registration.

As National's education spokeswoman, Katherine Rich, said, "The teacher can just lie. Or play down the problems; the nature of their offences."

Lind said principals should use "common sense" when hiring teachers. It was a matter of 10 seconds for principals to check a teacher's registration - the 'subject to conditions' flag meant there had been "a cause for serious concern", he said.

But the council would not tell principals anything further about those concerns, meaning they had to rely on the teacher's version of events. Lind also said principals should contact previous employers before hiring.

Case studies

* Just three years after being re-registered by the Teachers Council, Derek James McCarthy sexually molested a nine year-old pupil.

The 36-year-old teacher was convicted in July - in 1999, he had been investigated for accessing child porn on a primary school computer.

The Weekend Herald said that while McCarthy was teaching at Weymouth Primary School in 2005, he took a boy for "tutoring sessions" where he touched the boy's penis if he did not get the right answer.

He asked the boy "6 x 12". The boy did not answer.

McCarthy had been re-registered by the Teachers Council in 2002 after leaving Mt Carmel Primary School in 1999.

The board of trustees had investigated his viewing child porn.

Council director Peter Lind said there was no way this situation could happen again, because the council's powers had changed.

* A teacher censured for posting hard-core pornography of himself and his partners online - with notes asking for girls "the younger the better" to contact him - was able to work for three weeks this year without the Teachers Council knowing.

The art teacher's name is still secret but when the Herald on Sunday searched his online nickname, 'wakadog', we found more than 50 pornographic pictures.

The council's Disciplinary Tribunal decided in April - with a 3/2 majority vote - to let him back into the classroom.

When asked in July whether he was still working, the Teachers Council told Steve Maharey, Minister of Education, that they had checked and he was not.

But he had been working as a relief teacher at Kawerau College for 10 days in the previous three weeks.

The principal who hired him, Steve Hocking, said the system was so "limp" that the only way he found out about the teacher's background was through the grapevine.

"There's nothing to stop that guy going to Eketahuna or Christchurch or Invercargill ...

As of today, he could go and teach in an Invercargill school."

Other teachers have been allowed back in the classroom for:

* Sexually abusing a 15 year-old girl for two years; it was "somewhat addictive," the teacher told the council;

* Masturbating on the head girl and having sex with her;

* Convictions for assaulting an 11 year-old and failing to stop after an accident;

* Looking at porn while supervising a School Certificate exam;

* Playing strip poker and giving students alcohol on a school camp; that teacher had been convicted of supplying cannabis to minors;

* Stealing $13,000 from a school while principal;

* Convictions for importing ecstasy.