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


Memorandum submitted by the National Association of Head Teachers

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The National Association welcomes the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee on such an important topic as this and commends the Committee for its desire to investigate the areas highlighted in the inquiry's remit. The Association is well-placed to present evidence, given that it has over 28,500 members who are currently leaders in educational institutions covering all phases and age ranges 0-19. Indeed, with our membership including Principals of Further Education Colleges, this age range could be considered to cover cradle to grave!

  2.  The Association has long been concerned about the whole area of allegations against school staff. At its conference in 2007, a report was presented which highlighted the issues of false and malicious allegations and the impact that these can have on the lives of the professionals involved. It is not too extreme to say the consequences of any allegation can be tragic. A copy of the report is attached to this submission.[5]

SCALE AND NATURE OF ALLEGATIONS

  3.  Society itself is alleged to be increasing in its litigious nature and this cannot fail to have an effect on schools and the communities that they serve. This can manifest itself in an increase in allegations made against school staff. These can vary from minor incidents to very serious issues but all result in huge stress for those accused.

  4.  Although many schools deal well with these matters, it is still the case that they can take a considerable time to resolve. During this time, the accused person faces potential cataclysmic events, as far as they are concerned. This puts incredible levels of stress on their personal and professional lives.

  5.  It is also true that the expectation, with regard to the outcome of an allegation, of those making the allegation appears to be changing. Anticipated sanctions are extreme, with a real sense of demanding retribution to a high degree. There appears to be an element of `lynch mob' which is becoming prevalent in a small number of cases.

ANONYMITY

  6.  It is absolutely essential that anonymity is maintained while the allegation is being investigated. Sadly, the Association has had members whose lives have been ruined by media coverage in the local community whilst an investigation into an allegation is conducted. This can lead to suicide attempts and, in a small number of cases, actual suicides. For the school leader who is at the centre of a local community to face an allegation is devastating; for this to be compounded by adverse but unfounded and often ill-informed local media coverage can be one step too far.

  7.  The problem relating to what should and should not be retained on records following an allegation needs to be addressed. Currently, there is inconsistent practice nationally which can result in unfair treatment for some accused.

EXISTING GUIDANCE

  8.  Whilst the existing guidance could be considered as adequate, "adequate" is not enough when dealing with such important issues. It needs to be outstanding, insofar as this is possible, covering all eventualities so that staff are dealt with appropriately.

  9.  It is essential that the guidance deals in detail with all eventualities. It is often difficult for trained practitioners to work through the sensitive issues which arise through such allegations; for governors, who face these matters infrequently, it can be daunting and confusing. Guidance needs to be explicit and clear, allowing relatively inexperienced people to work their way through the process without undue delay but with fairness and appropriately.

  10.  An example of where further detail is needed is deciding whether suspension is an appropriate strategy. There are many factors that should be considered when weighing up the need to suspend or not. Although it is allegedly a neutral act, suspension can have a dramatic detrimental effect on careers of professionals. The Association deals on a regular basis with members who have been suspended as the result of spurious allegations. These allegations have elicited a `knee-jerk' reaction from those charged with handling the issue, solely through the fear generated from their own lack of experience and/or skills.

  11.  We have recently dealt with a case where a head member prevented an autistic child, aged 10, from throwing himself out of a window after being prevented from running away from school. The parents complained that the head had hurt the child and, without any investigation as to what had happened, the head was suspended from her post. The CPS took an inordinate length of time (four months) to throw the case out. However, this was not the end of the matter for the member. Instead, the local authority decided to go through a disciplinary process WITHOUT carrying out an investigation first. Eventually, after a suspension lasting six months, the disciplinary process was completed and the head was exonerated. In the meantime, the parents have complained about the governing body and the local authority and are threatening to seek an injunction to prevent the head from returning to school. Although the suspension has been lifted, the head has still not returned to work, her career has been damaged, possibly irrevocably, and all because of a badly handled allegation which had no foundation.

  12.  The head herself expressed her feelings graphically in her own statement: Even if a successful agreement is reached whereby I could have a safe return to work I have still been placed in an almost impossible and immensely stressful situation position where my professional reputation amongst other parents and colleagues is in tatters, the bonds of trust have been broken, compounded by the failure of the complainant parents... to keep the matter confidential, and I will have an allegation remaining on my record and with CRB even though it has been completely dismissed.

  13.  There are many alternative strategies that could be used which would avoid unnecessary suspensions and these should be set out clearly in guidance so that those who need to deal with these difficult decisions do so with the best possible knowledge and information available to them.

CONCLUSION

  14.  There is a considerable amount of work that still needs to be done with regard to the guidance provided to those who are faced with dealing with these difficult issues. This would provide a good basis for the allegations to be dealt with fairly, which would include maintaining the anonymity of those accused. It is also essential that all such allegations are dealt with expeditiously to ensure that those involved suffer as little anguish and career damage as possible.

  15.  The Association would appreciate the opportunity to expand on the issues outlined in this submission and would be happy to provide further examples of people who have faced traumatic events because of allegations levelled against them.

May 2009






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