Allegations Against School Staff - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by FACT (Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers)


  1.1  FACT is grateful for the opportunity to report on issues relating to allegations made in respect of school staff.


    —  This paper examines various issues relating to allegations made against school staff from the perspective of FACT members, most of whom contact us after they have been accused of alleged child abuse.

    —  Attention is drawn to the increasing number of school related referrals received by FACT through its help line and other support services. However, we believe it would be wrong to conclude that standards of conduct in schools are falling.

    —  FACT calls for detailed research into the scale and nature of allegations being made against school staff, and into investigative practice.

    —  FACT is generally critical of the present system of investigating cases of alleged abuse which is "belief" rather than "evidence driven".

    —  FACT calls for improved training of investigating officers and the need for a more ethical "evidence based" model of investigative practice.

    —  FACT is very sceptical of the suggestion that no record should be placed on the staff member's file where a false allegation has been made and believes it will have very little impact, partly because of problems of defining "false", and partly because police forces now routinely record the fact that an allegation of abuse has been made against a teacher on enhanced certificates of disclosure issued by the CRB.

    —  We do not believe that the morale of teachers will improve until there has been root and branch reform of the CRB system.


  3.1  FACT (Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers) founded in 1999 is a UK wide, membership based, voluntary organisation that exists primarily to:

    (a) support carers, teachers and other professionals (ie paid personnel) who maintain they have been falsely accused, or wrongly convicted of abuse or misconduct;

    (b) lobby for change in investigative practice and in the criminal justice system; and

    (c) encourage and/or promote research into contested allegations of historical sexual abuse.


  4.1  Most of the people who contact FACT do so because they have been accused of gross misconduct (and are therefore vulnerable to being dismissed), or because they have been accused of child abuse and are therefore vulnerable to being prosecuted and/or banned from teaching.

  4.2  In most cases these allegations manifest themselves in perceived personal or professional failings.

Personal failings

    —  inappropriate comments/conversation (eg bad language, sexually inappropriate comments, racist remarks etc);

    —  inappropriate physical contact (often relating to physical education, music and drama teaching);

    —  perceived over-strictness or over-friendliness; and

    —  blurring of professional and personal boundaries (particularly during extra curricula activities).

Professional failings

    —  poor classroom management and indiscipline;

    —  failure to comply with school's ethos, policies and procedures; and

    —  health and safety issues—usually following an inspection, or an accident or injury.


  5.1  There have been several attempts by the Government, the press, trade unions and others, to quantify the scale of allegations made against school staff. Whilst such figures are useful they rarely compare like with like and often conflict and compete with each other. What is needed is some solid research into:

    —  the scale and of nature of allegations made, and by whom;

    —  attrition rates (in terms of those allegations which result in disciplinary action);

    —  outcomes (in terms of proven or not proven findings);

    —  the extent to which the primary allegation(s) may be regarded as being true or false; and

    —  the process of inquiry.

  5.2  FACT acknowledges that the vast majority of school staff are not subject to accusations of misconduct and carry out their duties (teaching or otherwise) without ever being subject of a complaint. We think it is important to remember that most schools receive far more compliments than complaints.

  5.3  We are a relatively small organisation but hardly a day goes by when we do not receive a referral from someone associated with an educational setting (including the private or voluntary sector), who strongly believes they have been unjustly accused of misconduct or child abuse.

  5.4  The fact that the number of complaints made against school staff appears to be on the increase does not necessarily mean that standards are falling. It is much more likely that as we have become more child centred and education focused, expectations have been raised, and a well established "culture of concern" for children has encouraged individuals to express dissatisfaction in circumstances when previously, they would not.


  6.1  Generally speaking, teachers expect to be complained about sometime in their career and regard "allegations" as an occupational hazard.

  6.2  As in other fields, the fear of being falsely accused—especially of child abuse—is affecting recruitment. For example, many children now pass through school without being taught by a male teacher. The need for positive male role models is essential, not only for a rounded education but also for social development, especially in families where an absent father has led to deprivation and indiscipline.

  6.3  Senior staff and heads are also vulnerable to complaints, particularly in schools where there has been a recent change of head and some resistance to change. It is a sad fact that we have conditioned people (including pupils) into believing that the easiest way of getting rid of an unwanted teacher is to complain about them. Pupils recognise this and openly talk about this prospect.

  6.4  Perhaps the most worrying trend we have noticed in recent years is that female teachers are now being accused of sexual abuse whereas this would have been unheard of even three years ago. The reasons for this are not clear and may simply reflect the fact that female teachers are now in the majority in most schools.

  6.5  Not all accusations relate to "in-school behaviour". We have received a disturbing number of referrals from teachers (mostly men) who, whilst socialising with family/friends or alone, have come across a current (or former) pupil who later accused them of improper conduct—often involving a sexual element.

  6.6  More recently we have had isolated referrals from accused governors, administrative staff, teaching assistants, ancillary staff, caretakers, taxi drivers and escorts, laboratory technicians, and peripatetic sports coaches. All have maintained their innocence. No one it seems is safe from the prospect of complaint.

  6.7  In the majority of instances the allegations made have resulted in the person facing disciplinary action which sometimes has taken several months to resolve. In almost every case the person has been profoundly affected by the experience.


  7.1  Whilst we would not wish to minimise the extent of the problem or the impact false allegations have on individuals and their families, we would caution against the tendency to view all unsubstantiated allegations as false. Allegations come in all shapes and sizes and are best viewed along a continuum ranging from wholly true—to partially true—to partially false—to wholly untrue.

  7.2  We believe school staff, and teachers in particular, are especially vulnerable to being falsely or wrongly accused of misconduct. For reasons which cannot easily be explained this simple truth is rarely acknowledged by employers, and even less so by child protection workers. Both sides need to recognise that some allegations are true, and some allegations are false.


  8.1  In our experience those accused of child abuse are often left with the feeling that they have to prove their innocence before they can be believed. This is not how British justice works. A person is innocent until they are proven guilty. The burden of proof lies entirely with the investigating officer.

  8.2  It is particularly noticeable in cases of alleged child abuse that the investigative bodies are less inclined to take an evidential approach when deciding guilt or innocence. In part this is due to a misguided sense of professionalism which requires investigators to believe the complainant regardless of the facts. "Why would the complainant lie, why would they put themselves through this ordeal?"

  8.3  It is also due to the low evidential threshold that applies in such cases. In employment law, cases are determined on the balance of probability. However, when challenged, investigators are frequently unable to demonstrate how they weigh in the balance conflicting or competing evidence, and how they compute probability. Far too many confuse the theoretical possibility that the person might have committed the acts alleged (because, for example, they happened to be there at the material time) with probability.

  8.4  To compound matters the evidential threshold in child abuse cases is based on "reasonable cause to suspect" [Section 47 Children Act 1989]. This legitimises a process that becomes belief driven rather than evidence driven with mere suspicion being sufficient to warrant intervention and to find fault.

  8.5  There is a need for a new ethically based, evidence driven, approach to child protection.


  9.1  In recent years there has been a considerable amount of guidance published by the Government on relevant websites and through the usual Government channels. The problem is not so much a lack of guidance but one of poor practice. In 2004 a series of helpful documents were published including:

    —  Definitions and Thresholds for Managing Allegations Against School Staff;

    —  Managing the Aftermath of Unfounded and Unsubstantiated Allegations;

    —  Staff Subject to Allegations; and

    —  Guidance For Education Staff Facing Allegations of Abuse.

  9.2  These policies need updating as they do not take into account recent changes in the role of the Criminal Records Bureau, the General Teaching Council, the Independent Safeguarding Authority, and other listing bodies. In our experience the documents referred to above are not well known and their use has been patchy.


  10.1  There is a need to recognise that tension exists between the need to promote the welfare of children and the need to safeguard the right of the accused to a fair process. In our experience this tension often skews the process right from the outset.

  10.2  When a person has been accused of child abuse a strategy meeting is held in order that the professionals present can exchange information and develop a strategy for ensuring that the welfare of any child considered at risk is safeguarded, and for managing any investigation that is considered necessary.

  10.3  These meetings are an essential component of an effective child protection policy but in recent years their role has evolved (without Government sanction) into determining whether or not the accused person is guilty or innocent of what is alleged, even though that person may not have been told what it is they are alleged to have done—let alone produce any evidence in their own defence.

  10.4  Once the die is cast it is very difficult for employers to take a contrary point of view. Employers need to recognise that the child protection system has over many years persistently failed to develop procedures that correctly sift truthful allegations from false ones. Untested information should never be accepted uncritically.


  11.1  Not all the blame can be attached to child protection workers. They are dammed if they do and dammed if they don't. Employers also bear some of the responsibility for their failure to identify false allegations and for miscarriages of justice in disciplinary cases.

  11.2  In our experience (of several authorities throughout the UK) we have been struck by the lack of attention given to the need to train people to conduct meaningful investigations into alleged misconduct. Most investigative officers are selected according to their status rather their experience, and not because they have any real understanding of human rights, employment law or the investigative process.

  11.3  Investigative officers need to understand that they should be impartial and that they have a responsibility to examine the facts which, potentially, support the complaint or allegation made, and a responsibility to examine the facts which, potentially, point to the person's innocence. It is only when they have considered both elements and evidenced that they have done so, that they can truthfully claim to have carried out a fair investigation.

  11.4  In our view considerably more time should be given to providing investigating officers with relevant training.


  12.1  In our view most schools/employers, including those in the private or voluntary sector, have a good understanding as to when suspension is appropriate. However, we think there is a need to review suspension policies in light of a recent Court of Appeal decision that "suspension is not a neutral act and changes the status quo from work to no work and inevitably casts a shadow over the employee's competence" (Mezey v South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust [2007], EWCA Civ 106).

  12.2  Teachers fully understand that when an allegation has been made against them it must be fully and competently investigated. What they find difficult to understand is the lack of support they receive from their employers. Many of those who are accused of sexual abuse also complain that their trade union is, at best, ambivalent about providing them with advice and representation.

  12.3  Often the accused teacher is left in the dark and is not sure who is driving the investigation—the employer, social services or the police. They are invariably told that whilst suspended "they must not contact their colleagues at work"; a phrase which has a double meaning and has been frowned upon by employment tribunals who rightly point out that the accused has every right to contact anyone they believe has evidence which might help establish their innocence. Employers are of course entitled to control the contact during work time but have no jurisdiction to prevent contact outside of work. To do so would, arguably, be a breach of a person's human and legal right to association, family life and a fair hearing.

  12.4  All too often employers give very limited explanations for suspensions. Typically, staff are told they are being suspended as a result of "a child protection concern", which, if they are innocent, they can only imagine. This can create untold anxiety. Indeed it has on occasion led to suicide or parasuicide. (In 2003 a North Wales classroom assistant committed suicide within hours of being told he was being suspended, no reason being given, believing wrongly that he was being accused of child abuse.)

  12.5  It is very important that when staff are suspended they are given support and kept informed of progress. Equally it must be recognised that staff, especially when distressed, need adequate time to prepare their defence, particularly in complex cases. It is frankly not good enough when an employer takes several months to prepare their case only to allow the accused two weeks to prepare theirs.

  12.6  Representation is also very important. Under the present ACAS Code of Practice there is a statutory entitlement for the accused to be represented by a colleague or trade union official. Not all members of staff belong to a trade's union so their only option is to ask a colleague to represent them. This may not be appropriate, particularly if the employer has placed restrictions on the contact that can take place between the accused and other staff. Furthermore, being falsely accused of child abuse is a shaming experience and most teachers would not wish their colleagues to know the details of what they are supposed to have done. We would very much hope that all employers will ensure that no person is left without representation.


  13.1  In our experience the practice of whether or not to arrest someone accused of child abuse, as opposed to inviting them to attend a police station for questioning, varies across police force areas. We think this matter could usefully be referred to the Association of Chief Police Officers for further discussion.


  14.1  Notwithstanding the problems of defining "false", the issue of record retention is problematic. Some individuals may well prefer their records to be kept because it may subsequently help them evidence their exoneration, and also help evidence the fact that a particular individual should be regarded as high risk in terms of making false allegations.

  14.2  It has been suggested both by the Lord Chancellor and CSF Departmental Officials that teachers should not have any comments placed on their file if they are falsely accused. However, given the profession's reluctance to accept the notion that false allegations are made this is unlikely to have any impact.

  14.3  Others have suggested that the policy should extend to all cases where a person has been found "not guilty" of disciplinary charges. Whilst there are good "justice" reasons why this should happen—its impact is likely to be limited in the case of alleged abuse since the fact that an allegation has been made is routinely recorded on an enhanced certificate of disclosure issued by the Criminal Records Bureau which everyone working with children is required to have. Neither will it get over the routine question on many job application forms of "have you ever been subject to a complaint concerning a child or young person?"

  14.4  In our view this problem can only be resolved by a complete reappraisal of the law as it affects disclosures made by the criminal records bureau and local police forces to prospective employers.

May 2009

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