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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 36-39)


17 JUNE 2009

  Q36 Chairman: I think we are going to break into the Guinness Book of Records for a select committee's number of witnesses this morning, particularly as I believe that six of you are now going to be joining me. I am sorry that it is such a squeeze but it is, again, a delight to have such a well-qualified group of witnesses in front of us. You will know the time constraints, and as I told the last group of witnesses it will be quite rapid fire. I shall look rather impatient if you go on for too long, but you are a distinguished bunch so I shall probably be very deferential. Clare Collins, Alan Meyrick, Nick Gargan, Kathryn James, Fiona Hammans and Sir Steve Bullock, welcome indeed—particularly to Fiona. I remember that you were very helpful when we looked at education outside the classroom on a previous inquiry, so it is nice to have you back. Sir Steve, you haven't been in front of us before, have you?

  Sir Steve Bullock: I have not.

  Q37 Chairman: Welcome to you too, and to Nick Gargan, who came in at short notice. That was very good of you. We shall now get on; some of you have been sitting at the back and heard the first session, didn't you? Who didn't? Nick, you weren't there. Fiona? Good—some of you have been primed nicely. We usually give people a chance to say something before we get started. I shall start with Nick Gargan, because we have just had some pretty interesting evidence that we'll drill down into in a moment. Let's ask you the general question: the Police and Criminal Evidence Act is pretty clear on when you arrest a person and when you don't, why does it seem necessary that a teacher who is happy to comply and goes down to the police station to be helpful, but still gets arrested? It is a significant moment in their lives. If you read the Act it's not necessary, is it? People don't have to be arrested.

  Nick Gargan: I suppose it depends how you define necessary. In Thames Valley police, we arrest about 60,000 people each year[6] and the idea of not arresting a significant proportion of them would cause us some real control problems. If you have somebody at the police station and they are wandering in and out—we interview them, they provide us with some information and then they disappear off—we may well want to check the facts. Knowing where people are gives us a degree of control to deal with issues that arise during their interview, evidence that they present, evidence we might seek to obtain, and other people that we might want to talk to. Arrest is an effective administrative mechanism for keeping hold of people and having them where we want them.

  Q38 Chairman: But Nick, you know and I know that all the evidence shows that of the allegations of some form of misbehaviour in relation to teachers, only about 5% have ever been proven to have any substance. A teacher who has no criminal record, has not been in trouble with the police or the law at any time in their life, and is fully complying with your investigation, is still arrested. Surely, good common sense would suggest that teachers in that situation should normally not be arrested.

  Nick Gargan: Indeed. Good common sense dictates that that happens most of the time. Most of the time we don't arrest people. In a very small number of cases, officers do arrest people. I think that arrests of teachers represent about 0.2% of the arrests in the Thames Valley policing area, and most of those relate to actions that take place off-duty and away from school. These are tiny numbers, and I suspect that, if anything, officers are more reluctant to arrest a teacher, in the same way as they would be more reluctant to arrest a police officer, a doctor or people in a comparable line of business. I don't think that we are particularly over-ready to arrest teachers, but on occasions it is necessary.

  Q39 Chairman: Nick, I picked on you because that point came out very strongly at the end of the first session. Sir Steve, you have heard some of the evidence this morning, do you perceive this as a problem, or do you think it's a storm in a teacup?

  Sir Steve Bullock: I think that it is a problem, in two ways. Local authorities have a dual role. We have an absolute responsibility to safeguard children but we also have a duty of care to teachers who are in our employment or are working in schools that we have relationships with. That means that we have to think very carefully about how we get the balance right and how we give advice. I was very struck by something that was said in the earlier session. The other part of it—other people might want to say more about this—is that the people who have to deal with these things, which will come up out of a clear blue sky, even if they have had theoretical training, very often won't have had any previous experience. We are expecting them to make judgments in a climate in which if you get the judgment wrong you are likely to be pilloried yourself. That is at the heart of it, and is why what I think we look to local authorities to do is to support both parties: to support the school, the head, the chair of governors and so on, but also to be sure that the teacher, or other member of staff, who is accused is getting their support. Trying to get that balance right is our challenge.

6   Note by witness: The number of people arrested in the Thames Valley in 2008 was 68,376. Back

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