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


Memorandum submitted by The National Governors' Association (NGA)

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  The National Governors' Association (NGA) is the national membership body for school governors. NGA has several categories of membership comprising individual governors, school governing bodies and independent local associations of school governing bodies. NGA seeks to represent the interests of all school governors and governing bodies in all phases and types of school.

2.  SUMMARY

2.1  Nature and scale of allegation against school staff

  The NGA does not collect information about the level and nature of complaints against school staff.

2.2  Anonymity

  The NGA believes that all staff disciplinary matters should be dealt with on a confidential basis and staff members subject to allegations of misconduct should not have their identities splashed across local press. The NGA is not, however, clear whether such anonymity is achievable.

2.3  Disciplinary panels

  The NGA believes that further guidance would be helpful to both those conducting investigations and governors sitting on disciplinary panels. The NGA would also support the introduction of independent investigators.

2.4  Suspension of Staff

  The NGA believes that more thorough guidance should be made available and widely disseminated about the alternatives to suspension.

2.5  Retention of records

  The NGA believes there is no justification for retaining details on the file of an individual staff member of an allegation which has been shown to be false.

3.  WHETHER STAFF SUBJECT TO ALLEGATIONS SHOULD REMAIN ANONYMOUS WHILE THE CASE IS INVESTIGATED

  3.1  The guidance for dealing with allegations against school staff produced by the DCSF Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education states "Every effort must be made to safeguard against unwanted publicity while an allegation is being investigated or considered".[3]

  3.2  While is clear that when an allegation is made public it is hugely stressful for the individual concerned, the NGA has no evidence that in most cases matters are not handled with absolute confidentiality.

  3.3  The NGA does not take lightly the personal distress caused by the public airing of an allegation and where a case is made public, but the staff member in question is subsequently exonerated, the NGA would be supportive of some form of public statement by either the school or the LA to make the situation clear. This could be in the form of a press release or a letter to parents.

  3.4  The protection of children and young people is of vital importance, but it cannot be right that the lives of school staff, often with years of unblemished service, can be destroyed as a result of false allegations.

  3.5  The NGA is supportive of the idea of anonymity for school staff, but we have significant doubts about whether this can be achieved in practice. In most workplaces confidentiality is an absolute when dealing with disciplinary matters, but this often doesn't prevent seemingly the entire workforce having knowledge of an "incident" usually by the end of the same day. While this is unfortunate for the individual concerned, the crucial factor is that while such incidents provide fodder for office gossip, they are rarely of interest to those outside the workplace. The situation is very different for school staff, where "allegations" become fodder for playground and parental gossip. School staff, school governors and local authorities can be held to account for any breaches of confidentiality, but this is not the case for pupils and parents. Schools can consider disciplinary action against pupils who spread details of allegations (although the NGA is not aware of any school which has done so), but they have no power to act against parents.

  3.6  To provide anonymity for teachers would require legislation and the NGA is not sure how this could be implemented effectively. The NGA is not clear how the name of a member of school staff could be kept out of the public domain if a parent or pupil went to a newspaper.

4.  THE PROCEDURES TO BE FOLLOWED BY DISCIPLINARY PANELS

  4.1  The NGA believes that further guidance would be extremely helpful in relation to the investigation of an allegation and the conduct of disciplinary panels.

  4.2  Where an allegation is against a member of staff then the Headteacher would take the lead. The Chair of Governors should be informed about any allegation and may be involved in discussions about the process going forward, this would certainly be the case if the allegation were about the headteacher.

  4.3  The governing body, whatever the individual expertise of its members, are not the "professionals" in this context and the NGA does not believe that it is appropriate for any member of the governing body to be involved in the formal investigative process. The chair of governors should be kept informed about the progress of investigations, but should not be directly involved in the taking of evidence. Other members of the governing body would become involved if disciplinary matters are delegated to the GB, or where the staff member appeals against any decision made by the headteacher.

  4.4  The governing body is guided by and to a large extent reliant on the advice it receives from the professionals in the process (principally the headteacher and local authority). Anecdotal evidence given to the NGA, which appears to be supported by the cases described in the recent File on Four[4] programme, suggests that the quality of advice given to governing bodies is variable. Having said that, where the governing body is required to set up a disciplinary panel it must ensure that it gives equal weight to all the evidence presented. The governing body has a duty of care to all the members of staff in its school and this requires it to ensure that any disciplinary hearing is fair. In line with the NGA's policy of the importance of training for governing bodies we believe that governors sitting on disciplinary panels should receive appropriate training. The NGA believes that it would be helpful for LAs to establish a bank of appropriately trained clerks, in each local authority, who would be available to clerk such meetings. This would ensure that all such panels are clerked by properly trained individuals able to give appropriate advice as to procedure.

  4.5  The governing body must ensure that its policy for dealing with allegations sets clear lines of responsibility to ensure that no individual may investigate an allegation in which they are also a witness.

  4.6  There is a difference between demonstrably false allegations and those which are subject to interpretation—ie an allegation in which can rapidly be shown to be untrue (eg the member in staff in question was not on the school premises on the day of the alleged incident) and allegations which are based on different interpretations of the same incident (eg when a staff member removes a pupil from classroom with what s/he deems to be appropriate force but which the pupil claims is excessive force). These latter cases are more difficult to resolve and are often the ones which lead to lengthy suspensions and subsequent Employment Tribunals. It would be helpful if guidance could be provided about the role of the investigating officer and the ways in which evidence should be collected and interpreted.

  4.7  The NGA believes that it would be more appropriate for any investigation to be carried out by a properly trained person who is independent of the school, and preferably of the LA; although we recognise that this latter provision may have significant cost implications. The NGA does not believe that the headteacher, who will have worked in some capacity with the staff member and will also have direct knowledge of the pupil, should be placed in a position of having to investigate when an allegation is made. It is in the interests of all concerned that investigations are carried out in a transparent manner and are seen to be fair.

  4.8  It is a clear from the cases reported in the recent File on Four programme and other cases highlighted over recent years by all the teaching unions, that time is a major factor in all of these cases. While LAs, headteachers and governing bodies cannot control the length of time any criminal investigation takes, they are directly responsible for disciplinary proceedings. Where a criminal investigation has already taken place it cannot be right for internal disciplinary proceedings to drag on for months. While there may be grounds for internal disciplinary action if criminal proceedings do not take place, or even if a trial has found an individual not guilty of a criminal offence; the facts of the case are already known and there can be little justification for further lengthy investigations.

  4.9  The NGA would support more thorough guidance about what issues should be considered where a criminal investigation has already taken place and either no prosecution has taken place or the individual concerned has been found not guilty. The guidance should address the issue of whether any further investigation is required and the need to resolve matters quickly.

  4.10  Lengthy investigations are not just traumatic for the staff involved they also cause operational and financial difficulties for the school and can impact on pupils.

5.  WHEN SUSPENSION OF THE STAFF MEMBER CONCERNED IS APPROPRIATE

  5.1  The Safeguarding guidance makes clear that suspension should not be automatic in all cases and alternative courses of action should be considered.

  5.2  Suspension is deemed to be a "neutral act" which does not in any way indicate guilt, but in reality can be extremely traumatic for the individual involved and without appropriate re-integration policies can be career threatening even if the allegation is deemed to be unfounded. Suspension can also impact upon anonymity as the disappearance of an individual member of staff from the school population can lead to rumours, and such rumours could be damaging to the individual's reputation.

  5.3  The NGA does not have hard facts and figures, but anecdotal evidence does suggest that suspension is often an automatic reaction, rather than a considered judgement on the merits of the evidence. The NGA does know of a situation in which a Chair of Governors was phoned by the police and told that the headteacher would need to be suspended—this before any details of the allegation had been given. This is wholly inappropriate as only the Chair of Governors can make a decision about whether to suspend the headteacher, and guidance should indicate that this would only happen in consultation with the LA.

  5.4  All those involved in dealing with allegations need to have clear guidance about when suspension is appropriate and what other courses of action are open to them. Guidance should also make clear who is responsible for making decisions about suspension as in the NGA's experience other agencies involved in these situations sometimes have little understanding of the role of the governing body.

6.  THE RETENTION OF RECORDS OF ALLEGATIONS FOUND TO BE FALSE

  6.1  If an allegation is found to be false it has been demonstrated that it could not have taken place and the member of staff is wholly exonerated. There can be no justification for such an allegation remaining on a member of staff's individual file or being disclosed. The school should keep a record that an allegation has been made by a particular pupil because as in some of the reported cases it has been shown that unfortunately some pupils make false allegations on one or more occasion.

May 2009







3   DCSF Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education Chapter 5, paragraph 5.7. Back

4   File on Four, BBC Radio 4 (Broadcast 3 March 2009)-programme transcript can be viewed via the attached link http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/03<&lowbar;>03<&lowbar;>09<&lowbar;>fo4<&lowbar;>abuse.pdf Back


 
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