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

2  The scale and nature of allegations

7. Some allegations will be true. Some will be misconceived, for instance when a child or parent is unaware of a staff member's right in law to intervene or restrain and alleges assault.[1] Some allegations will be unfounded but are triggered by circumstances elsewhere and are in effect cries for help; and some are simply malicious and calculated moves to undermine a particular teacher.[2]

The nature of allegations

8. The NUT said that almost all allegations made against its members were about physical restraint and discipline issues rather than alleged sexual misconduct.[3] The union "Voice" told us that allegations in the 1980s and 1990s had been predominantly ones of sexual misconduct but that the number of allegations of physical abuse—such as hitting, slapping or rough handling—had increased in recent years.[4] The NUT and the Association of School and College Leaders took a similar view, saying that most allegations related to physical violence: "he hit me" or "she pushed me".[5] We were also told that staff in special schools for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties were frequently subjected to physical attack by the children and that allegations were sometimes made by people observing staff using approved forms of physical restraint.[6] A majority of allegations, it seems, are made against male staff.[7]

9. The NASUWT suggests that there are signs that a culture of allegations is spreading: "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 she seeks to reprimand them for misbehaviour".[8] We were told of one seven-year-old child who was heard to say "I will get you suspended" to the headteacher.[9]

10. An emerging trend, identified by the NASUWT, is for pupils to use social networking sites to make anonymous false or malicious allegations.[10] We have not been able, in the time available, to explore this worrying development.

The number of allegations

11. We attempted to form a picture of the scale of allegations. Those who responded to our call for evidence cited a range of statistics on differing bases, for instance:

  • The NSPCC said that in 2007-08, Childline received 68,758 calls about abuse and bullying; for 1,491 of the children counselled, a teacher was identified as the perpetrator of abuse;[11]
  • The DCSF supplied figures from a one-off survey for the period from 1 April to 30 September 2007, indicating that there had been 4069 allegations referred to local authority designated officers during the six-month period. 52% of those referrals were from employers in the education sector;[12]
  • Allegations of abuse made against NASUWT members rose from 44 in 1991 (when figures were first collected by the union) to between 161 and 193 in each year from 1998 to 2007; but these figures only include cases where the union was required to instruct solicitors for a police interview;[13]
  • The number of NUT members subject to an allegation of criminal misconduct has remained steady at about 200 cases per annum;[14] as with NASUWT figures, these cases include only those in which solicitors were instructed to attend the police station;[15]
  • In 2008, the Teacher Support Network dealt with 132 calls from teachers about allegations.[16]

12. The NUT told us that only 5% of cases led to a conviction or finding of misconduct.[17] The NASUWT said that the overwhelming majority of allegations were found to have had no substance,[18] and it provided a breakdown of the outcomes of cases in each year since 1991 (when figures were first collated by the union). Approximately 10% of cases reported by NASUWT members led to court proceedings, with about half leading to a caution or conviction.[19] Of the 95% of cases which did not lead to a caution or conviction, some may have had foundation and may have led to internal disciplinary action.

13. The Department surprised us by claiming that it was "rare for an allegation to be deliberately false or malicious".[20] This claim was based upon the one-off review conducted by the Department in 2007, described above, which indicated that the proportion of allegations which were malicious was 2.8%.[21]

14. Some witnesses did not accept this figure at all: the Association of School and College Leaders said that the great majority of allegations of physical violence by teachers appeared to have no basis in fact or were greatly exaggerated.[22] Mr Kaufman, a solicitor experienced in acting on behalf of school staff subject to allegations, agreed, pointing out that the Department had not supported its statement in any way.[23] Others suggested that the Department was using a particular interpretation of the term "false allegation". Amanda Brown, Head of the Employment, Conditions and Rights Department at the NUT, said that:

We would take a false allegation as being one where there is no outcome that lays blame on the teacher. The DCSF, as I understand it, looks at a situation and asks whether there was anything that could have resulted in an allegation. So, for example, in a discipline issue, if a teacher has waded in to break up a fight in a playground, the DCSF won't treat it as a false allegation if they are cleared of any misconduct, but say that there was an issue. There was a nugget of factual information, which means that it was not a false allegation.[24]

Chris Keates, General Secretary at the NASUWT, said that local authorities and Government departments could be reluctant to acknowledge the existence of false allegations "because it might be seen as trying to protect abusers".[25] This view was not borne out by other evidence.

15. We raised the matter with Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, the DCSF Minister with responsibility for child protection. She agreed that the definitions used by the Government and by teaching unions were not necessarily comparable, and a Departmental official clarified that the term "deliberately false" used in the submission meant "deliberately and knowingly false" and was intended to describe allegations which were deemed to be malicious.[26]

16. There is perhaps a distinction between allegations which are deliberately false, being fabricated and exaggerated but perhaps with no motive other than to seek attention, and those which are malicious and calculated to do damage. Nonetheless, regardless of the debate about definitions, our constituency experience leads us to doubt that the proportion of allegations which are malicious is really as low as 2.8%.

The impact of allegations

17. As the union "Voice" pointed out:

The lives and careers of innocent people have been ruined by false allegations of abuse, even after they have been acquitted of any offence. Being falsely accused and suspended can cause severe personal distress and long-term damage to the accused's career. A large number of our members have left the profession and suffered damage to their health.[27]

Similar points were made by the Association of School and College Leaders and individuals who described their personal experiences.[28] Even when a member of staff has been cleared by a disciplinary panel and neither the police nor local authority social services have found any case to answer, rehabilitation at school after a potentially long absence can be difficult.

18. In some cases, a teacher's family may become involved in the investigation and restrictions may have been placed upon the activities of the accused. The NUT told us of a case in which a teacher was obliged to certify that he would have no sole contact with his baby daughter for a year.[29] In another case, raised in debate in the House, a member of staff was forbidden to watch his son play rugby for his school, even at away matches.[30]

19. Allegations with any weight at all have an impact upon the school concerned, not least in terms of finance. Setting aside the expenses of any court process, an independent investigation to inform disciplinary proceedings, if commissioned, may be costly; and the cost of arranging cover for a member of staff suspended on full pay can be significant, especially if the suspension lasts for months. We were told that a bill of £30,000 for cover by supply staff during a suspension was common.[31] If members of staff are supporting allegations, for instance against a headteacher, the effect upon staff morale and confidence in the direction and ethos of the school may be crippling.

20. There may also be implications for teacher recruitment if, as was reported to us, anxiety about the possibility of allegations causes graduates to hesitate to enter the teaching profession.[32] The NUT spoke of the "chilling effect" for all teachers whether or not they were the subject of an allegation;[33] and a witness representing the National Association of Head Teachers spoke of anecdotal evidence that people, particularly when considering taking up a headship, were put off by publicity given to allegations made against headteachers and by the responsibility of managing allegations.[34]

21. We have considered whether the lack of consistent data on allegations is significant. The NUT told us that keeping a register of allegations was important in "knowing the scale of the problem and being able to define it".[35] We agree. More importantly, perhaps, a consistent set of data kept on a regular basis would allow the Department and local authorities to begin to assess the cost of allegations, financial and otherwise. We believe that it is unsatisfactory that there are no comprehensive data compiled on a regular basis for allegations against school staff. We recommend that the following data should be collected annually from all schools:

  • The number of allegations referred to local authorities;
  • The number of allegations leading to police investigation;
  • The number of allegations leading to suspension of the staff member concerned; and
  • Outcomes, including those that lead to criminal convictions and dismissal.

As numbers will be small, we do not believe that this would be an unduly onerous requirement.

22. We urge the Department not to dismiss this recommendation out of hand. We bear in mind the Report on Bullying published by the former Education and Skills Committee. In it, the Committee recommended that the Department should introduce a requirement for schools to record all incidents of bullying along with information about the type of bullying incident.[36] The Government agreed to strengthen its encouragement to schools to record all incidents of bullying and report the statistics to their local authority; but it resisted the introduction of a statutory requirement, arguing that there would be logistical difficulties and that the introduction of a requirement to record bullying incidents "will not necessarily persuade more schools to do so".[37] Our predecessors were not convinced by the Department's argument, and we do not believe that a parallel argument can be sustained in relation to allegations against staff.

1   Section 93 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. See also Mr Kaufman Q 32 Back

2   See Chris Keates Q 9 Back

3   Amanda Brown Q 6 Back

4   Ev 62 Back

5   Ev 6 and Ev 38  Back

6   Ev 67 Back

7   Amanda Brown Q 13 Back

8   Ev 13 Back

9   Ev 68 Back

10   Ev 13 Back

11   Not all of the 68,758 were necessarily children or were counselled. The 1,491 figure may include repeat callers and calls "which do not appear genuine" but it does not include cases where the status of a perpetrator was not identified but could have been a teacher: Ev 71  Back

12   Data supplied by local authority designated officers (LADOs): returns covered 85% of local authorities in England.
Ev 78-79 

13   Ev 18 Back

14   Ev 6 Back

15   Q 5 Back

16   Ev 22  Back

17   Ev 6 Back

18   Q 1 Back

19   Ev 18 Back

20   Ev 78 Back

21   Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee on 24 June 2009, on the Training of Children and Families Social Workers, HC 527-iv, Session 2008-09, Q 320 Back

22   Ev 38 Back

23   Q 12 Back

24   Q 11 Back

25   Q 12 Back

26   Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee on 24 June 2009, on the Training of Children and Families Social Workers, HC 527-iv, Session 2008-09, Q 322 Back

27   Ev 61 Back

28   Ev 38  Back

29   Amanda Brown Q 16 Back

30   Memorandum from Roger Lock [not printed], see HC Deb 2 April 2009, vol. 1125  Back

31   Memorandum from Jenni Watson, paragraph 3 [not printed] Back

32   Chris Keates Q 1 Back

33   Amanda Brown Q 5 Back

34   Kathryn James Q 54 Back

35   Amanda Brown Q 7 Back

36   Bullying: Third Report from the Education and Skills Committee, Session 2006-07, paragraph 33 Back

37   Bullying: Government Response to the Committee's Third Report of Session 2006-07, Third Special Report, Session 2006-07, HC 600, response to Recommendation 6 Back

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Prepared 16 July 2009