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

Memorandum submitted by the National Union of Teachers (NUT)

    —  There has not been a great increase in the number of allegations against school staff which result in police action, and a relatively small number of such allegations result in a conviction.

    —  The harm caused by a false allegation can be immense, both to a teacher's career and general well-being. The impact must therefore be limited as much as possible so that those who are the subject of a false allegation do not suffer disproportionate harm.

    —  Further steps must be taken to ensure that the recording and retention of unproven and false allegations do not harm a teacher's future career.


  1.  Over recent years, the number of NUT members subject to an allegation of criminal misconduct has remained relatively steady at approximately 200 cases per annum. Of these about 5% result in a conviction or finding of misconduct.

  2.  Statistics are not held by the NUT on allegations of improper conduct made against NUT members which do not lead to police involvement.

  3.  Very few allegations of sexual assault are made against NUT members. In the main, allegations of improper conduct involve an alleged assault relating to pupil discipline.


  4.  The NUT subscribes to the view that every effort should be made to maintain confidentiality and guard against unwanted publicity while an allegation is being investigated or considered.

  5.  It is already the case that identity will remain undisclosed until charge. The Union supports a change to maintain anonymity until conviction. The harm caused to teachers by a false allegation is so great that the impact must be limited to those who have been found guilty of misconduct.


The procedures followed by disciplinary panels

  6.  In cases where the police have investigated an allegation, there is a risk that a subsequent disciplinary panel may be inappropriately influenced by evidence arising from the police inquiry. The remit of a disciplinary panel has different criteria and evidence requirements from a police inquiry, and it is essential that evidence from one does not contaminate the other.

  7.  Disciplinary procedures are a particular problem for agency supply teachers. Whilst schools will share allegations that have been made against supply teachers with the agency, neither the agency nor the school will institute disciplinary procedures, so that such teachers often have no chance to properly clear their name even if the allegation was entirely unfounded.

When suspension of the staff member concerned is appropriate

  8.  The guidance on suspension is clear but employers frequently fail to adhere to it. The criteria for considering suspension are overlooked and too often teachers are suspended automatically, in contravention of the guidance.

  9.  The NEOST/Union guidance entitled Staff Facing an Allegation of Abuse—Guidelines on Practice and Procedure, published in 2002, provides comprehensive advice on suspension procedures and, in our view, should be incorporated into Government guidance.

  10.  Because of the overly-cautious approach of employers, the inappropriate use of suspension when allegations are trivial and there is no cause to suspect a child is at risk of significant harm is a recurring theme in NUT casework. The harm caused to teachers suspended inappropriately should not be underestimated.

  11.  Very rarely are teachers called to suspension interviews, that is, interviews with the head teacher, with their representative present, to consider whether suspension is appropriate. Whilst the NUT is aware of some head teachers occasionally offering teachers the option of "working at home" as an alternative to suspension, more often than not, the teacher is simply informed that they are suspended with immediate effect.

  12.  The NUT is aware of head teachers being put under considerable pressure from social services to suspend. One Local Authority has even threatened to remove the governing body should it not comply with the Authority's wishes in this regard.

  13.  A further reason for head teachers suspending teachers almost automatically is that there is a misconception by some that if they do not suspend at the outset, they may be restricted later on if they decide to dismiss the teacher on the grounds of misconduct.

  14.  In terms of support for teachers whilst suspension is continuing, it is the NUT's experience that almost none is offered. Welfare counselling and support from the Local Authority's medical officer is generally not even discussed.

  15.  Some letters of suspension will state that the teacher is forbidden from contacting colleagues at the school whilst the suspension/investigation is continuing. This practice is not only unfair and contributes to the teacher's feelings of isolation, but also leads to a number of perverse situations. An example is that of a teacher who had been forbidden from contacting work colleagues, despite the fact that the teacher in question was married to a fellow teacher at the school. Best practice on this issue has not been widely developed.

  16.  The fact that contact with work colleagues is often forbidden indicates that there is a fundamental lack of understanding by head teachers and Local Authority staff as to the devastating and isolating effects of suspension upon the teacher and his/her family.

  17.  Whilst suspension letters do sometimes mention a named contact at the Local Authority and at the school, the teacher usually receives no contact from either. The school bulletin, adverts for internal posts, even the teacher's pay slips are often not being sent to the teacher whilst s/he is suspended. Unions are largely fulfilling the role of the employer in supporting the teacher whilst suspension is continuing.

  18.  Often it is the case that teachers who have been made the subject of an unfounded allegation, and who were suspended throughout the investigation for a number of months, leave the profession. Teachers often tell us that their decision to leave is taken as a result of the isolation and lack of support experienced during their suspension, as well as the difficulty of returning to their career as a result of recording procedures.

  19.  When suspensions are lifted, as a result of the allegation being found to be false/unfounded, welfare counselling is rarely offered to the teacher, phased returns are unusual and return to work interviews are rarely conducted.

  20.  In order to ensure that suspension issues are properly handled and to encourage retention of key members of staff who have had unfounded allegations made against them, the NUT believes the following should be enforced:

    —  suspension interviews should be arranged with the teacher represented;

    —  the teacher/representative of the teacher must be able to make representations;

    —  the teacher must be given a named contact at the Local Authority and school who should take active steps to contact the teacher, update him/her on any key developments etc. The teacher should be encouraged to have social contact with colleagues whilst suspension is continuing, providing that doing so does not interfere with any police investigation; and

    —  welfare counselling/help from the Local Authority's medical officer must be offered to the teacher;

   Phased returns should be considered in order to help the teacher adjust to school life after a suspension is lifted.

When arrest of the staff member concerned is appropriate

  21.  Although the numbers affected are small, there is evidence from solicitors that police routinely arrest teachers inappropriately, with grave consequences for the individuals concerned. Again, this appears to result from the misinterpretation of, or failure to follow, the relevant guidance.

The retention of records of allegations found to be false

  22.  The NUT is strongly of the view that records of trivial and unfounded allegations should not be kept on a teacher's personnel file and should not be passed on to future employers.

  23.  The DCSF guidelines currently state that a record of any allegations relating to the safety and welfare of children made against a staff member should be kept in their personnel file. The NUT believes that the guidance should be amended to ensure that only allegations with substance are recorded and retained on file, and that false and malicious allegations should not be disclosed in references.

  24.  Where there has been a criminal investigation, there is a real danger of misleading records being disclosed to prospective employers. The NUT deals with a significant amount of casework on this. We are of the view that guidance such as the Home Office Circular 5/2005 should be more robustly applied. This is in order that information passed to the CRB by local police forces for disclosure purposes, as required under Section 115(7) of the Police Act 1997, cannot be misconstrued.

  25.  Teachers and other staff working with children are particularly vulnerable to false allegations. In some cases the process of investigation will find that the allegation is manifestly false and the teacher may be able to resume their teaching career without excessive difficulty. However, in others, there may be a less clear resolution so that the teacher never feels entirely "cleared". Such cases commonly result in the ending of a teacher's career. In these situations, the way in which information is recorded is of utmost importance as the inclusion of any recorded information is likely to raise a suggestion that there was substance in the allegation.

  26.  The NUT accepts that non-conviction and other material may in some circumstances be made available to those deciding on suitability for teaching posts but believes that such material must be relevant, credible, clear and capable of substantiation. The NUT also believes that a decision as to disclosure should be taken by a chief police officer on the individual circumstances of the case. The way in which material is presented must be meaningful and done in such a way as to minimise misunderstanding.

May 2009

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