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

Memorandum submitted by the NASUWT


  NASUWT data collected since 1991 demonstrates that the number of allegations has increased and that the majority of allegations made against teachers are false or malicious. Case studies are provided alongside this evidence to illustrate a number of the points of concern raised in this evidence.

  There is no place for those who abuse children and young people in children's services. All allegations made by children and young people must therefore be taken seriously and properly investigated. Those accused, however, are entitled to be treated fairly. Investigations should not be conducted on the basis that a person subject to the allegation is guilty until they can prove themselves innocent.

  Since the NASUWT began campaigning in 1991 on the issue of allegations against staff, considerable progress has been made on improving the relevant procedures but more needs to be done.

  The abuse of technology as a vehicle for making allegations against staff is a relatively new and increasing problem and despite extensive guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) is still not taken seriously by employers and managers.

  A legal provision should be introduced to provide anonymity for staff up to the point of a court decision.

  The current Allegations Guidance should be strengthened by incorporating specific provisions to:

    —  address the position of supply teachers and student teachers on teaching practice against whom allegations are made;

    —  provide more detailed advice for governors serving on disciplinary panels;

    —  discourage the routine referral of allegations by schools to external agencies, irrespective of their nature and severity;

    —  deter automatic suspension of staff without consideration of alternative strategies and secure a regular review of any suspension made;

    —  make clear the responsibilities of schools and local authorities to ensure confidentiality of investigations; and

    —  advise on the weight which should be given by employers to `soft-information' on CRB disclosures.

  Training should be introduced for police officers:

    —  in the application of the arrest provisions set down in Section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) to prevent teachers being arrested when they voluntarily and willingly co-operate with an investigation into an allegation made against them; and

    —  with regard to the provisions of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which enable staff to use reasonable force in specified circumstances and on the right of staff to use reasonable force in self-defence or to prevent another person or property from being damaged.

  The inconsistencies in the recording and disclosures of non-conviction and internal disciplinary information, so called "soft information", is a serious problem which must urgently be addressed to prevent teachers and other staff who have been falsely accused having their careers permanently blighted.

  1.  The NASUWT believes this is a critical Inquiry and welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence.

  2.  This response draws on the Union's extensive experience of handling casework involving allegations against teacher and headteacher members and the Union's work on collecting data and working with Government to address concerns relating to allegations against staff. The NASUWT has maintained a national database of allegations against members since 1991.

  3.  The chronology in Appendix A shows the work undertaken by the Union over the past 18 years and the significant progress made. However, there is still much more that needs to be done to protect staff.

  4.  The NASUWT wishes to emphasise at the outset that there is no place in the profession for those who abuse children. All allegations made by children and young people must be properly investigated. However, investigations should be conducted in a way that is fair and transparent and protects the rights of all those involved, particularly in light of the fact that the overwhelming majority of allegations against teachers turn out to be false or malicious.


  5.  Appendix B contains the NASUWT's statistics on allegations of physical/sexual abuse made against NASUWT members since 1991. These figures show that the number of allegations has risen significantly. However, it must also be noted that this table only includes cases where the allegation was referred to the police and it was necessary for the Union to instruct solicitors to represent the member at a police interview and therefore the figures only represent the "tip of the iceberg". There are many more cases where teachers are taken through an internal disciplinary process without police involvement. These teachers may or may not be dismissed, but many, regardless of the outcome of these procedures, leave the profession as a result of the stress of the process.

  6.  NASUWT casework reveals continuing and increasing problems with pupils making allegations against teachers. There is an increasingly prevalent attitude of pupils challenging teachers with comments asserting their legal rights and threats that they will make an allegation against the teacher if s/he seeks to reprimand them for misbehaviour.

  7.  A relatively recent additional dimension to allegations against staff is the use of websites, such as YouTube and Bebo, by pupils to make false and malicious allegations against teachers anonymously. Publicly available derogatory remarks about teachers' practice affects their self-esteem and health and leaves them vulnerable to damage to their careers when current and prospective employers trawl the sites. In 2008, the NASUWT presented 100 examples to the Minister of State for Schools and Learners, Jim Knight MP, collected over a five-day period.

  8.  As a result of the growing body of evidence of technology abuse, the Union launched its Cyberbullying Campaign in 2007, calling for:

    —  examination of legislation and/or regulatory provisions that could be introduced to make more accessible avenues of redress for victims against the website hosts;

    —  a review of the child protection investigation procedures that require all allegations against teachers, including those that are anonymous, to be investigated and for guidance to be issued to schools on handling allegations that specifically appear on websites;

    —  legislative change for anonymity for teachers accused of abuse to be given serious consideration in light of the frequency of false allegations on these websites; and

    —  measures to encourage schools to treat these incidents very seriously, including making specific reference in school behaviour policies to the use of the most serious sanctions for misuse of technology, either in school or off site, including a clear statement of zero tolerance.

  9.  Despite extensive guidelines from the DCSF to schools, it is the Union's experience that employers and managers are often reluctant to become involved when websites are misused by pupils. Given the potential damage that can be caused to teachers' health and careers, the NASUWT believes the Allegations Guidance should be expanded to cover allegations made through forums such as the Internet, e-mails and mobile phones. This needs to address what an employer should do when an allegation is made online anonymously.

  10.  Also of concern is a developing trend where, when allegations of common assault are made against teachers by pupils, this then results in external investigations being instigated into the welfare of the teachers' own children. The NASUWT believes that the instigation of a Section 47 investigation into teachers' domestic and family circumstances arising from an allegation made against them by pupils is inappropriate, unacceptable and a disproportionate response. One-off allegations of physical assault are being treated with the same severity as serious allegations of sexual abuse. Two examples are given in Appendix C (see Case Studies (i) and (ii)).


  11.  The NASUWT initiated the campaign for anonymity in 2003 because of the injustice of teachers being publicly named when accusations are made against them, whilst the pupils who make the allegations remain anonymous. The Union has been seeking changes to the law to give anonymity up to the point of a court decision. Victims often endure intrusive and lengthy investigations, which trigger trial by media. Their family life, health and professional confidence deteriorate. In extreme cases, teachers have committed suicide. The NASUWT launched a postcard campaign in 2004 to gather support for this legislative change. Over 60,000 responses were received and delivered to Downing Street. Claire Curtis-Thomas MP (Labour) presented 30,000 of the responses to the House of Commons. The Conservative Party also supported the Union's campaign.

  12.  The Government responded positively and, whilst not being prepared to grant anonymity, it did revise the guidance issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), advising police forces not to release the identity of individuals to the media prior to formal charges being brought. The ACPO position is referred to in the Allegations Guidance, but the NASUWT believes that the guidance needs to make it clearer to schools and local authorities that they have responsibilities to try to ensure that confidentiality is maintained at all stages of the process. The Government also brought in a fast-track investigation procedure of allegations as it was clear that the longer an investigation took, the more likely there was to be media coverage. This guidance was recently reviewed by the DCSF to evaluate its effectiveness.


(i)   The procedures to be followed by disciplinary panels

  13.  The current Allegations Guidance does not include advice for disciplinary panels on the procedure they should be following when hearing allegations of a child protection nature. In the Union's extensive casework experience, many employers approach investigations and disciplinary hearings from the point of view that the teacher is guilty of the alleged misconduct unless s/he can prove otherwise (see Case Study (iii) in Appendix C for an example of this).

  14.  The NASUWT continues to have concerns about the role of governors on disciplinary panels. As volunteers, many governors have no training, experience or expertise in disciplinary procedures. They often also receive poor advice from Human Resources/Personnel providers.

  15.  The Allegations Guidance should include a section advising schools, and particularly disciplinary panels, of the approach to be taken when considering child protection allegations. This should draw to their attention the crucial principles of natural justice and "innocent until proven guilty". The information could be similar in nature to helpful guidance that is available to members of General Teaching Council Disciplinary Committees, the General Medical Council panel chairpersons and decision makers in circumstances where barristers have breached the Bar Code of Conduct (see Appendix D).

  16.  The NASUWT believes that headteachers, as a result of the Allegations Guidance, are generally now less inclined and lack the confidence to deal even with low-level allegations internally, instead erring on the side of caution and referring all cases to the local authority. Local authorities are much more inclined to treat the matter as a child protection issue involving "significant harm" irrespective of the nature of the allegation. As a result, cases that may involve, for example, a minor restraint incident where a teacher has acted in accordance with the reasonable force guidance, are treated in exactly the same way as serious allegations of sexual abuse.

  17.  The Select Committee may wish to consider the independent investigation service introduced in Wales under the Staffing of Maintained Schools (Wales) Regulations 2006. This has brought more objectivity and impartiality into the investigatory stage of child protection allegations.

  18.  The NASUWT is concerned about the specific difficulties faced by supply teachers. Generally, when an allegation is made against a supply teacher, the teacher is just sent away by the school and asked not to return. This is not a "suspension" and they are not paid. The school has no responsibility towards them as they are not on the staff of the school. They are then often left in limbo, unable to work and without pay, sometimes permanently removed from the agency's books. Often neither the supply agency nor the school actively seek to investigate the allegation. The teacher is therefore not able to clear his/her name. Case Study (iv) in Appendix C is an example of such a situation. The Allegations Guidance should make it clear what responsibilities the agency, school and local authority have when an allegation is made against a supply teacher and must stress that the necessary investigation needs to be completed within a reasonable timescale.

  19.  The NASUWT also has concerns about the position of student teachers on teaching practice in schools when allegations are made against them. In the Union's experience, confusion can arise between the various organisations involved, namely the school, the higher education institution and the local authority, about who has the responsibility for investigating any allegation. Case Study (v) in Appendix C illustrates these problems.

  20.  The only reference to supply teachers in the current Allegations Guidance is very brief and hidden away in footnote 10 on page 58. No reference at all is made to the position of student teachers.

(ii)   When suspension of the staff member concerned is appropriate

  21.  The Allegations Guidance states that suspension should not be automatic and that alternatives should be considered. However, many employers do not take this into account and suspend automatically, regardless of the nature of the allegation and without even considering any appropriate alternative option.

  22.  The Union is aware of a very small number of local authorities with policies that do specifically follow the guidance in relation to not suspending automatically and considering alternatives. Examples of the relevant extracts from two such procedures are included in Appendix E. It would be helpful if "best practice" examples could be included within the Allegations Guidance. The Union also believes that the guidance should require the employer to be able to justify any suspension, perhaps by way of conducting a formal risk assessment, before the decision is taken to determine whether there are any other alternative options available.

  23.  The Allegations Guidance needs to state that any suspension should be subject to regular review. Suspension is seen as a neutral act in law, but in a school environment, the sudden absence of a teacher fuels gossip and the prevailing "no smoke without fire" attitude means the teacher is invariably tainted by the suspension. For this reason, many teachers find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to return to work after a lengthy period of suspension, even where they have been completely exonerated following criminal and employer investigations. Given the devastating effect a suspension can have on the individual teacher, the guidance should stress more strongly that any suspension should only be the last resort and for the minimum duration.

  24.  The Union's casework experience suggests that employers are failing to keep in touch with members whilst they are suspended. Members are routinely informed that they must not contact any colleagues or pupils in the school, and this, combined with little or no contact with the employer, leaves them completely isolated. The guidance needs to stress that employers must keep in regular contact with the suspended individual, not just in terms of the suspension and progress of the investigation, but also to keep them informed about general developments in the school. Employers should also provide suspended teachers with access to occupational health and counselling services.

  25.  Some employers impose draconian conditions on suspensions, such as barring the teacher from attending any authority premises (including public swimming pools and libraries). The guidance should advise against this unreasonable and unnecessary practice.

(iii)   When arrest of the staff member concerned is appropriate

  26.  The NASUWT has long been concerned about the insistence of police officers on arresting teachers when they attend a police station voluntarily and are willing to co-operate with an investigation into an allegation made against them. The Union does not believe that this approach meets the necessity test for arrest in Section 24(4) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). The Union lodged judicial review proceedings against the police in two cases (see Case Studies (vi) and (vii) in Appendix C). The outcome of which supported the Union's view. As a result of this, fewer teachers should now suffer the humiliation of being arrested and having their DNA, fingerprints and photographs taken and retained when attending police stations following allegations by pupils. It should also mean that they are not subject to adverse information on CRB Enhanced Disclosures.

  27.  The NASUWT asserts that police should be better trained to apply the arrest provisions set down in Section 24 of PACE.

  28.  In addition, police officers often appear to be unaware of Section 93 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which specifically enables teachers to use reasonable force in specified circumstances, or the common law right of any citizen in an emergency to use reasonable force in self-defence, to prevent another person from being injured or his property from being damaged.

(iv)   The retention of records of allegations found to be false

  29.  Paragraph 5.10 of the Allegations Guidance advises schools to retain a clear and comprehensive summary of any allegations made, how they were followed up and resolved and a note of any actions taken and decisions reached, with a copy kept on the individual's personnel file. The NASUWT continues to have concerns about the inconsistent way information is being recorded and disclosed.

  30.  The NASUWT has longstanding concerns about the nature of non-conviction and internal disciplinary information ("soft-information") being disclosed by local police forces and reproduced on teachers' CRB Enhanced Disclosures.

  31.  Information is not being recorded fairly and consistently by the police or employers. Resolving this issue is of increasing importance in light of the new Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) under the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), as information recorded by an employer about an allegation may be referred to the VBS and be considered under the discretionary barring procedures.

  32.  The Union's casework experience demonstrates that it is rare for an allegation to be formally recorded as being "false". In many cases, even if the police find the allegation to have been fabricated, the formal outcome is recorded as being "insufficient evidence to prosecute" or "no charges brought but the matter was referred to the employer to deal with internally". This type of recording can be extremely misleading as it implies that the police believed the alleged incident occurred but did not have enough evidence to successfully prosecute. The Union believes that where an allegation is proven to be false, the police should formally record the outcome as "allegation found to be fabricated" or "no case to answer", to avoid the matter being recordable on a CRB Enhanced Disclosure.

  33.  The Allegations Guidance and the sections on recruitment and vetting checks (chapters 3 and 4) in Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education need to include guidance as to what weight employers should attach to "soft information" on CRB Enhanced Disclosures, given that this often relates to allegations that have been unproven or found to be false. Many employers simply refuse to employ a teacher who has been subject to an allegation regardless of the outcome, erring on the side of caution rather than considering whether there was any substance to the allegation.

  34.  Paragraph 5.34 of the Allegations Guidance states that where an allegation is shown to be deliberately invented or malicious, the headteacher should consider whether any disciplinary action is appropriate against the pupil. The NASUWT believes that this should be strengthened. Further, the NASUWT is concerned that the guidance states the police should only be involved when the accuser is not a pupil. The Union firmly believes that where a pupil, particularly in a secondary school, has made a demonstrably false allegation, the matter should be referred to the police by the employer as a matter of course. The Union is aware of just one case where the police have cautioned a pupil for fabricating an allegation, but this was as a result of pressure from the member, not the school (see Case Study (viii) in Appendix C).

  The NASUWT has provided appendices to this evidence separately.

May 2009

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