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

Memorandum submitted by Voice, The Union for Education Professionals


  This Union is pleased to have the opportunity to make a contribution to the Committee's inquiry into allegations against school staff.

Children need protection. That is a priority, but those who work with them, both teachers and support staff, are entitled to protection too. We know through our casework that 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.

In this submission we will respond to the three issues highlighted by the Committee in its brief. We shall also make representations about another matter of concern to us, which is the issue of "soft" information in CRB Enhanced Disclosures.


1.   The scale and nature of allegations of improper conduct made against schools staff.


  Historically, the problem of allegations against school staff emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. These allegations were predominantly allegations of sexual misconduct and in many cases they were historical. At one time, supporting members who were the subject of these allegations was a major part of our casework. Now, the content of allegations has moved to allegations of physical abuse, eg hitting, slapping, rough handling etc. In recent years the number of these allegations has increased. Also, a new development is the appearance of allegations against school staff on YouTube. We mention this below.

2.   Whether staff subject to allegations should remain anonymous whilst the case is investigated.


  We have strong views on this issue.

Publishing someone's name as part of a newspaper story because they have been accused of something but not charged is trial by media. A small paragraph on an inside page weeks later reporting that the charges have been dropped is not acceptable. Mud sticks.

It is time for teachers and support staff to be given some basic rights and safeguards. Among these should be the right to anonymity unless, and until, charged with a criminal offence. This union has called for the necessary legislation to effect this to be introduced as soon as possible.

  The issue of general confidentiality is also relevant in this context. Often it is not clear what confidentiality means, who is required to respect confidentiality and how. Practical guidance aimed at all the school community would be most helpful (see 3 below).

3.   Whether the guidance available to head teachers, school governors, police and others on how to handle claims of improper conduct by school staff should be revised with particular reference to:

 (a)   The procedures to be followed by disciplinary panels.


  We have a few examples only of unsatisfactory procedures followed by disciplinary panels. There have been potential issues of conflict of interest arising from the early stages of the allegation and the investigation and there have been examples of unfortunate delays in the arrangement of panel dates. It is important that disciplinary panels are kept completely separate from the early stages of the procedure. It goes without saying that panel members will benefit from specialist training.

We can take the opportunity of adding that in our experience there has been a general and maintained improvement in the management of allegations, both at school level and between the agencies. However, there remain inconsistencies in the handling of cases and the implementation of the processes and procedures in the Guidance.

There is, in some instances, a lack of familiarity with actual procedures. For example, we have examples where head teachers are not always aware of the role of the Local Authority (LA) Designated Officer and the need to make immediate contact.

  There is certainly a willingness to move through the procedures as quickly as possible and timescales have improved.

 (b)   Suspension of the member of staff.


  We have observed that there are fewer occasions where a suspension is an automatic response to an allegation and more cases where thought is given to whether suspension is necessary. In maintained schools the key moment is when the school takes advice from the LA. There are some very good LA procedures which explain when suspension is necessary and what the alternatives to suspension could be in practice.

Suspension is such a pivotal moment that it warrants further guidance.

We have had a number of examples of head teachers exercising good professional judgement in consultation with the LA about suspension. The guidance should encourage head teachers to do this, and perhaps include case studies such as remaining at work with certain restrictions, and garden leave. It would be particularly helpful for the guidance to address the concern of some head teachers that if they do not suspend at the start of the procedure they could have problems later on.

 (c)   When arresting the member of staff is appropriate.


  The decision to arrest a teacher has to be necessary and proportionate. One of our representatives who recently supported a member arrested by the police has written as follows:

    —  "Knowing that she was to be interviewed under caution, being interviewed under caution and awaiting the result, caused a high degree of stress. Arriving at the police station, being advised of rights, being interviewed with three tape recorders was for her a humiliating process".

    In this case the police took no further action and our representative further commented, as follows:

    —  "She believed that having been proved to be innocent, appropriate systems would be put in place to redress what had been done to her, but this did not happen".

  In this same case the member has sent us her own comments, which are as follows:

    "I received two visits in school from police officers, approximately eight days apart. After each visit I was told that it was unlikely the matter would go further. A sense of unreality crept in, as I was innocent and there was therefore no evidence. I began to lose faith that the process to which I was being subjected would not necessarily produce a just outcome. I felt myself to be a victim here with no control in this matter. I continued to teach the child in my class for a further eight days after the police had reported the allegation to the school before she was moved to another class. If I had not gone to the police station voluntarily, the police officer said that I would have been arrested. Four days later I was notified by the solicitor that the police would take no further action, but when I received written notification from the police of this the wording was "unless further significant evidence is brought to our attention", ie case not ENTIRELY closed (next month I shall write back requesting notification of complete closure in writing)".

 (d)   Retention of records of false allegations.


  We come across confusion about the difference between "false", "malicious" and "unfounded" allegations. These distinctions are important in relation to the retention of records.

It is our experience that staff perceive child protection procedures as weighted against the accused individual. For example, if a false allegation is made against an individual and it is shown that there is no evidence to substantiate the allegation, there is concern that the allegation stays on the individual's record with the potential to impact on their careers.

The key issues to be addressed about records are; where they are kept (schools or central LA HR), what is kept, eg what minutes of which meetings, length of time that records are kept, security and who, if any, has copies of any of the documents.

  We should add in conclusion that in our view the contents of chapter 5 of Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education are clear and helpful. The guidance follows the premise set out at the start of this submission, which is that whilst it is important that children are protected, those who work with them are entitled to protection as well. We use this guidance in our casework and for our training and the feedback from our members, both leadership team members and members of staff, has been positive. The guidance will need to be updated to cover the introduction of the vetting and barring scheme and that will be a very good opportunity to review the contents of chapter 5 generally.

  The Committee has not asked for comment on the recent and growing number of allegations made on computer technology, such as YouTube and Facebook. The main difficulty is establishing whether or not an allegation has actually been made which relates to a person's suitability. There is, in our experience, uncertainty about who should be dealing with allegations made online, and how. The review of Chapter 5 could usefully cover these needs, to be a clear procedure covering who investigates, who takes action if appropriate and the member of staff's rights.


  CRB Enhanced Disclosures are a key part of the safe recruitment process and their significance will not decrease with the introduction of the Vetting and Barring Scheme. We have a concern about approved/additional information, known as "soft information" or "non-conviction information". There is a statutory basis for the chief officer of police to include additional information on a CRB check. This is section 115 (7) of part (v) of the Police Act. Additional information is given on an Enhanced CRB check in a small proportion of cases. We have seen monthly figures for the period October 2008 to March 2009 and in most cases a local force includes this information in less than 1% of disclosures.

The legislation is worded in very broad terms. The test is whether in the chief officer's opinion any information might be relevant to the application and ought to be disclosed in the Disclosure.

  We can give the following scenario as illustrative of our member casework:

    Mr X is accused of hitting a child. The matter is referred to the police for investigation. Mr X is interviewed. He denies the allegation. Later he is informed that no further action is taken by the police. He has been suspended from school and he is later reinstated. There may or may not have been an internal school investigation prior to reinstatement. Mr X is not told whether or not the police investigation will be included in an Enhanced Disclosure. Much later he makes a CRB application and finds that this is included as additional information. He is unhappy with the information provided and, in particular, he is unhappy that there is no clear statement that the allegation was a false allegation, as he believes was the case. He raises the matter through the CRB disputes procedure but the information is not changed.

  Notwithstanding the wide discretion in the legislation, additional information should be factual, accurate and fair. The process should be transparent and there should be the right to access independent arbitration if the contents are disputed.

  We deal with cases where the individual is unhappy about the content of additional information. It could well be that there is good practice in many police force areas. We simply do not know. If there is good practice we would be very pleased for that good practice to be disseminated. It is extremely unsatisfactory, and unfair to an individual, that at the end of his/her contact with the police and/or CPS there is no way of knowing whether that contact will be later placed on record as additional information.

May 2009

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