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.
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
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
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
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.