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

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  We believe that school staff subject to allegations should be treated according to acknowledged principles of justice and that a person accused of wrongdoing should be seen as innocent until proven guilty. The aim should always be to deal with allegations speedily, effectively and justly, to minimise the cost and the impact upon those accused. (Paragraph 6)

  The impact of allegations

2.  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. (Paragraph 21)

2.  The investigatory process

3.  We question whether there is a need for a lengthy investigation of an allegation by local authority social services if a police investigation has concluded that no crime has been committed or that there is no case to answer. (Paragraph 26)

4.  We recommend that representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers, local authorities and teacher unions meet to agree a protocol for the recording and sharing of information. (Paragraph 27)

3.  The first stages of investigation

5.  We believe that headteachers should have more discretion to intervene early in cases and to handle allegations internally if they are satisfied that there is no prospect of harm being caused to the child. We recommend that the Department amend guidance to those working with children to identify circumstances in which headteachers can justifiably handle allegations internally. We are not convinced, however, that the same discretion should apply to governors considering an allegation against a headteacher. (Paragraph 32)

4.  Police use of powers of arrest

6.  We recommend that the Government should undertake a one-off exercise to find out how many arrests were made over a twelve-month period of school staff following an allegation of improper conduct. Police forces should review those cases to assess whether arrest had been justified. We remind chief constables that it is their responsibility to ensure that officers use their power of arrest sensitively and judiciously. (Paragraph 45)

5.  Suspension of staff

7.  The lack of any statement in the Department's draft guidance for practitioners on keeping the length of suspension to a minimum is an omission which should be rectified. (Paragraph 49)

8.  We believe that it would be best practice for a headteacher to discuss suspension with the accused before any decision is taken, while clearly reserving the right to suspend. (Paragraph 52)

9.  We welcome the steps taken by the Department to reiterate guidance on when suspension of a member of staff is appropriate and on possible alternatives. We recommend that guidance should remind users that the lawfulness of suspension can be challenged and that suspension may be held by the courts not to be a neutral act. We also recommend that each decision to suspend a member of staff subject to an allegation should be reviewed once proceedings have run their course, to assess whether the decision had, in retrospect, been justified. (Paragraph 54)

10.  Guidance to headteachers and to governors should specify that any bar on contact between an accused teacher and other school staff should apply on school premises only. (Paragraph 56)

11.  We welcome the stress placed by the Department in its draft guidance for practitioners on making constant and appropriate support available to members of staff subject to allegations. We remind local authorities, employers and school leaders of their duty of care to school staff and of the importance of continuing to treat suspended members of staff as full-time employees fully involved in the work of the school. (Paragraph 58)

6.  Anonymity for those subject to allegations

12.  We are not sure that a right to anonymity up until the point of court decision would deliver a significant benefit to those subject to allegations. Even if it were to succeed in preventing details of an allegation from being published or broadcast by the local media, it might do little to stop details being circulated amongst children and parents. The argument that anonymity up until the point of court decision could remove the potential for more witnesses or fellow sufferers to become aware of the charges and to come forward is a strong one. On the other hand, exposure of an allegation under investigation will almost invariably tarnish the reputation of the member of staff concerned, and the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty' will be undermined. We recommend that there should be further consideration by the Department of the case for statutory anonymity for school staff subject to allegations. (Paragraph 63)

7.  Independent investigations

13.  We believe that an investigation must not be an exercise purely to assemble a case against the staff member concerned. (Paragraph 67)

14.  We believe that former senior employees of local authority children's services departments will often be well placed to conduct independent investigations as long as they do not carry out that function on behalf of a school in their former local authority area. We believe that the criteria qualifying a person to conduct investigations should be relevant expertise and objectivity. We are not persuaded that it is conducive to confidence in the process for handling allegations if independent investigators appear to be sourced from organisations which might have a particular viewpoint. Nor are we convinced that this is a task which should be contracted out to unknown third parties. (Paragraph 71)

15.  We recommend that there should be a clear presumption in all schools that decisions on whether or not to appoint an independent investigator to gather any information necessary to inform disciplinary proceedings, and on who should be appointed, should be taken by the chair of governors. Local authorities will have a direct interest, given their statutory role to safeguard children and sometimes in a non-statutory role as employer. Headteachers may come under especial pressure when an allegation is made and may in any case be the subject of the allegation. We believe that governors, properly trained and equipped with advice, will be more objective than either local authorities or headteachers. We would expect the chair of governors to consult closely with the headteacher, who will have first-hand knowledge of the pupil or parent making the allegation, and with the local authority, in reaching any decision. (Paragraph 74)

8.  Disciplinary hearings

16.  We recommend that local authorities form a pool of procedural advisers to attend disciplinary hearings and to advise school governors on the conduct of those hearings. (Paragraph 76)

17.  We are persuaded that all school staff subject to an allegation should have the right to have legal representation or to be accompanied by a trade union representative, whichever they prefer, in all disciplinary hearings. (Paragraph 79)

18.  Once a decision has been taken to instigate disciplinary proceedings, employers should consider carefully what information, if any, should be communicated to parents and staff. (Paragraph 80)

19.  A supply teacher subject to an allegation should be treated on an equal basis as a full member of staff and should be investigated by the school at which the allegation is made. The results of any investigation should be reported to the employing agency and to the Independent Safeguarding Authority. (Paragraph 81)

9.  Guidance

20.  We recommend that the Department should take the opportunity offered by the present consultation on guidance for practitioners to rationalise the guidance which it produces on handling allegations. The Department should publish a very short handbook, summarising procedures and the criteria to be taken into account at key decision points, and containing references to a single authoritative and detailed volume of guidance drawn up in consultation with local authority bodies, children's organisations and teacher unions. (Paragraph 84)

21.  Employers of school staff should be more energetic in ensuring that key figures in each school are trained in how to handle allegations and that they have access to support services, including a helpline. We also believe that employers should carry out more systematic reviews of how individual allegations were handled, to assess in particular:

  • Whether a suspension (and the length of that suspension) was justified;
  • Whether the allegation was handled expeditiously; and
  • Whether the accused received the right level of support.
    • We see this as one of the most important recommendations in this Report. (Paragraph 86)

10.  Personnel records

22.  We commend the Department for making clear, in an Annex to new draft guidance for practitioners, the distinctions between terms used to describe outcomes of investigations. However, the phrase 'unsubstantiated allegation' carries with it a whiff of guilt. It should be used with particular care and only when no other term will suffice. The Department should also make clear in the body of the guidance that those who record outcomes of investigations should use those terms in describing allegations which lead to no further action, to avoid any ambiguity. (Paragraph 94)

23.  The decisions of the Independent Safeguarding Authority on the suitability of individuals to work with children should be made on all available and relevant information, including that held in their employers' personnel records. (Paragraph 98)

24.  We believe that the Independent Safeguarding Authority should take responsibility for deciding whether allegations recorded in a personnel file of a member of school staff should be retained or expunged. We therefore recommend that records of all such allegations should be retained by employers unless and until the Authority authorises their deletion. (Paragraph 99)

11.  Police records and disclosure

25.  The guidance prepared by the Department for practitioners on the distinctions in terminology for different outcomes of an investigation has value for police officers and should be either disseminated to police forces as it stands or incorporated into existing police guidance. (Paragraph 105)

26.  We recommend that the Independent Safeguarding Authority assess proposed disclosures of "soft" information relating to people working or applying to work with children or vulnerable people. (Paragraph 109)

27.  We question whether an employer should have the right to reject an applicant or appointee simply on the basis of unproven and quite possibly unfounded "soft" information supplied by chief officers for Enhanced Disclosure CRB checks. The Government should examine this practice and either justify permitting it or take steps to prevent it. (Paragraph 111)

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