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

Memorandum submitted by the Association of School and College Leaders

  1.  The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) represents nearly 15,000 members of the leadership teams of maintained and independent schools and colleges throughout the UK. This places the association in a unique position to see this initiative from the viewpoint of the leaders of both secondary schools and colleges.

  2.  ASCL welcomes the Committee's inquiry into allegations against school staff, which the association has for some time felt to be being handled in an unsatisfactory manner.

  3.  ASCL has not conducted any survey of the number or nature of such allegations, but it is clear from calls to our hotline that in aggregate such allegations are frequent. They are very rare in some schools and rather common in others, depending not on how much staff misbehave but on the attitude of the children and their parents to discipline.

  4.  School leaders contact ASCL for advice sometimes in relation to allegations made against themselves but in nearly all cases seeking advice about how to handle allegations made against staff who work for them.

  5.  Most such allegations are not sexual but relate to physical violence ("he hit me" or "she pushed me"). The great majority of these appear to have no basis in fact or to be greatly exaggerated. The former include allegations made in malice or as a way of distracting from or defending against being disciplined. The latter usually follow from accidental contact or teachers using the power to physically restrain pupils likely to harm themselves or others being mistaken for or wilfully interpreted as an assault.

  6.  On the other hand child protection experts say that sexual abuse cases, though rarer, are under-reported and after many years of denial there has been a strong case made in recent years to tilt the balance in favour of the child. ASCL agrees; when such allegations are made it is imperative that the child be supported and heard, and that there is a thorough and effective investigation.

  7.  One of the systemic problems at present is a failure to distinguish at an early stage between these types of allegations, and between allegations of greater or lesser seriousness. This can lead to over-reaction.

  8.  All such allegations can be devastating, and having to face them, without them ever being proven, has driven good teachers and other staff out of their employment and out of the profession. This is exaggerated by public suspicion that tends to attach to any person against whom such an allegation is made even when there is absolutely no basis for it.

  9.  It is not unknown for children or their parents to threaten school staff that they will make an allegation (unless disciplinary action is dropped for example). This undermines the authority of school staff and good order in (some) schools.

  10.  ASCL is strongly of the opinion that school staff should be protected from being identified as the object of an allegation in the press or in other public places such as the Internet, remaining anonymous unless and until they are convicted of an offence. That is not to say that there should not be a record of allegations made, see paragraph 17 below, but such records should remain private if the case is not proven.

  11.  The operation of school disciplinary panels is generally satisfactory, though of course there are some failures to adopt and follow fair procedures.

  12.  It is felt that investigations by school staff who have not been trained in handling sexual abuse cases can lead to tainted evidence in this most serious area. ASCL agrees, and strongly advises its members not to involve themselves in such cases at all, but to hand them over to experts.

  13.  However, the more general injunction on school leaders not to investigate child protection cases at all, but to hand matters to the LA team or the police, can lead to over-reaction when it is clear that there is no case to answer or when the allegation is less serious.

  14.  There is a need to make it clear that suspension is not needed in the great majority of cases. It is resorted to far too frequently at present, and though a nominally neutral act is seen by many suspended staff and onlookers as a punishment and an indication of guilt. It also isolates accused staff and separates them from many of their normal support systems at a difficult and stressful time. It is only needed if there are reasons to believe that the presence of the accused member of staff might significantly affect the investigation or create a significant chance of (further) harm.

  15.  Particularly when members of staff have been suspended there is a need to complete investigations much more quickly. Police and LA child protection teams can sometimes take months to investigate even straightforward cases. This can be very stressful for those accused, even when they know they are innocent; and when they have been suspended for a lengthy period it can be difficult or impossible for them to return to work.

  16.  There are far too many arrests. There should be no need to arrest a member of staff who is willing to cooperate with the police, yet arrests are made even of people who have presented themselves at a police station to make a statement. It is very distressing for law-abiding people who have done nothing wrong to find that there will then be a permanent record of their arrest. This is compounded by the collection of fingerprints and DNA samples, which again may be held indefinitely. The processing of an arrested person is not necessarily private, and when school staff meet their pupils in such a context, as has been known to happen, it is humiliating and undermining of school discipline. Arrest should only be necessary if the person is refusing to accompany a police officer, or if they are to be charged with a serious offence and held in custody.

  17.  The Soham case militates against any systematic deletion of records of unproven allegations. However, such records can be damaging and distressing to innocent school staff, even when the allegation made against them was mistaken, unfounded, or malicious. At the very least greater care should be taken when such records are accessed to present the outcome of the investigation with as much prominence as the fact of the allegation. References should not mention allegations that have been found to be mistaken, unfounded or malicious.

  18.  Malicious allegations are not uncommon, but there seems to be a reluctance to act against those making them. It is important for the maintenance of good order in schools that staff should be able to discipline children who break the rules. At present that can be subverted by the mis-use of a system intended to protect children to enable errant children or their parents effectively to punish school staff by making unfounded allegations, and with no consequences to themselves.

  19.  The present inquiry is into allegations against school staff, but it is worth noting that many of the same points apply to staff who work in colleges and in other situations where they have responsibility for children and young people under the age of 18.


  20.  School staff should have anonymity when allegations are made against them unless and until they are convicted of an offence.

  21.  There is a need for a more proportionate response to minor allegations.

  22.  Suspension should be used only when there is a clear need for it.

  23.  Investigations should take place within an agreed timescale. It is especially important for this to be adhered to in cases where a member of staff has been suspended.

  24.  Arrests should not be made unless the person is refusing to cooperate with the police or is to be charged with a serious offence and held in custody.

  25.  Further thought should be given to how "soft" evidence is retained and accessed, and greater effort made to prevent such activity affecting the careers of innocent people.

  26.  There should be a greater emphasis on the consequences of making a malicious or frivolous allegation.

  27.  ASCL hopes that this is of value to your inquiry, and is willing to be further consulted and to assist in any way that it can.

May 2009

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