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

Memorandum submitted by Andrew Walker


    —  Staff of EBD Special Schools (Emotional Behavioural Difficulties) experience a higher incidence of allegations due to the nature of the difficulties the children are experiencing. Children in these schools are not naughty, they have serious medical and social problems. —  Guidance concerning allegations against Staff at EBD Special Schools must include arrangements that take into account the specific difficulties faced by school staff, in particular the increased risk of false allegations. —  The formal meetings within the child protection processes must include the opportunity for the Headteacher of the accused staff member to be supported by a School Governor. Where the Headteacher is accused, there should be the provision of independent support for the Chair of Governors.

    —  The timescales for the investigation process for providing the evidence for any remedial or disciplinary action need to reduced. The first Strategy Conference should be held within 36 hours of the acusation, irrespective of working days or working times.

    —  The current guidelines identify "Suspension" of the accused as a neutral event. It is not; it has multiple side effects on the school and can be what the child making the accusation sees as a "win", which then becomes a threat to other staff. In this case, suspension is not in the best interests of the child nor of the other children in the school.

    —  Alternatives to suspension must be available to the authorities involved and explicitly identified as possible alternatives for consideration in every case.

    —  The current definition of outcomes needs revision to include a category between "malicious" and "unfounded". This new category is needed because there are occasions where the child may believe the accusation, but it can be shown that the incident could not have taken place.

    —  Where an allegation is subsequently proven to be false, malicious or unfounded, consideration must be given to introducing a facility to remove an allegation from the record of the accused.

    —  Much more consideration needs to be given to the possible actions to be taken with the child in cases of false accusations.

The nature of allegations of improper conduct made against school staff

  1.  The pupils attending EBD (Emotional and Behavioural Difficulty) Special Schools are severely damaged by their life experience and often have inappropriate knowledge that is beyond their physical years. In addition, they lack an understanding of social norms.

2.  Extensive staff experience suggests that to some EBD pupils, making an allegation against an adult is a way of gaining power over their environment. Therefore, the reaction to the accusation may be more important to them than the accusation itself.

  3.  It should be noted that staff in EBD Special Schools are frequently subjected to physical attack by the children and the approved "Team Teach" form of de-escalation techniques do include the appropriate techniques of physical restraint. Some allegations have been made by people observing the use of these restraint techniques.

  4.  The revised guidance must recognise the extra risk of potentially false allegations that are inherent in educating these children with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties that attend these EBD Special Schools.

The scale of allegations of improper conduct made against school staff

  5.  It is difficult to obtain information about the number of allegations against school staff as the outcome of such allegations is confidential. Furthermore, whatever the outcome for the staff involved, they prefer to move on beyond what is a traumatic experience.

6.  The situation in EBD Special Schools is equally difficult to identify, but confidential research within the EBD schools in this county shows that one accusation against a member of staff or a head is received on average every 18 months.

  7.  We have attached a confidential[1] appendix on the 15 allegations made in our own Primary BESD Special over the past 14 years.[2] Of these, nine have subsequently been proved to be false by confession of accuser or their parent (three of these may have been malicious), four were defined after in depth investigation as "unfounded", one was withdrawn by the parent and a recent case has just been concluded as unfounded.

  8.  There needs to be a record of the number of allegations against staff with particular reference to education phase and type of school. This needs to be supported by a record of outcomes against agreed definitions.

Should staff subject to allegations remain anonymous while the case is investigated

  9.  Under current arrangements, staff may not even know that they are under investigation. This is intended to limit the opportunities for tampering with potential evidence in the event of a police enquiry. In effect, this only serves to prolong the internal investigation.

10.  In practice, as soon as a member of staff is suspended, questions are asked about the reason. Officially, the anonymity might be retained for a short period, but in a small community like a school, other staff and parents find out who is being interviewed and draw their own conclusions. Furthermore, anonymity cannot be maintained when witnesses are sought.

  11.  In a school community, it is frequently the children who discuss the accusation, especially if a suspension is involved. In one case, a seven year old was heard saying "I will get you suspended" to the Headteacher.

  12.  The preservation of evidence is essential if a police investigation is required, but the requirement for this investigation should be identified or discounted by the First Strategy Conference.

  13.  The name of anyone under investigation should be disclosed if any action is taken within the school, and the progress of any investigation should be reported to the staff. The details of the accusation should remain confidential in order to protect the evidence.

Guidance on the procedures to be followed by disciplinary panels

  14.  The current guidance calls for a formal Strategy Meeting at the earliest opportunity in order to consider a course of action. Our experience is that the outcome of this meeting is predisposed to suspension of the accused.

15.  However, the effect is that the accused is tried in their absence, and then "imprisoned" in a "suspension" without even being told the nature of the allegation. This seems contrary to natural justice.

  16.  The current guidance includes a facility for the employer to provide counselling and support to anyone under suspension, but these "counsellors" are required to report to the investigating team anything that might be of relevance to the investigation.

  17.  The investigation then proceeds with the Local Authority as Investigator, Prosecutor, Judge, Clerk and Jury. Occasionally, an external "independent" investigator may be appointed. From our own experience and other research, external investigators used by Local Authorities, tend to be drawn from organisations that are built on a presupposition of adult guilt, or are ex-employees of the commissioning authority.

  18.  We have found within our own county that "confidentiality" and "data protection" is used to prevent the distribution of evidence to the accused or their representative. Therefore the accused is unable to challenge any evidence or its interpretation. The same terminiology is also used to obscure any assessment of the probity of the Local Authority actions after the event.

  19.  Unfortunately, the only people with sufficient experience to raise a concern about the probity of the process are those least able as they have either been dismissed, or returned to work and dependent on the Authority to retain work. Even where an industrial tribunal finds unfair dismissal, there are no arrangements for holding the Authority to account for its actions.

  20.  The revised guidance should include an extended list of those allowed to attend the Strategy Meetings as follows:

    (a) where an accusation is made against a member of staff, the Headteacher attending Strategy Meetings panels should be supported by a Governor of the school; and

    (b) where an accusation is made against the Headteacher, the Chair of Governors should be supported by an experienced Chair of Governors or a representative from a Governors' Association.

  21.  The revised guidance should provide for a wholly independent counsellor to any accused. This should be in addition to the support given by their Trade Union Representative as part of any disciplinary process.

  22.  Any external investigation should be commissioned by the governing body of the school and report should be delivered to the governing body.

  23.  The revised guidance should include the facility to review the processes followed by the Local Authority and the quality of advice it provided.

  24.  To support effective investigation, the guidance needs to include reference to the retention of CCTV and any other IT evidence, and the protection from accidental erasure or potentially unhelpful editing.

The guidance on when suspension of the staff members

  25.  Contrary to the statement in the current guidelines, "suspension" is not a "neutral act".

26.  Suspension of the staff member is currently seen as the only possible response to an allegation. Where the allegation is false, the effect of the suspension is to achieve the goal of the accuser.

  27.  In EBD Special Schools there is a higher risk of allegations because of the circumstances of the children's lives. Following careful consideration of the 15 allegations in our school, we believe five were misplacement, three were possibly malicious, six were unfounded, and one was withdrawn by the parent when they found the child was not telling the whole truth.

  28.  In all these cases, the use of suspension had not helped the child:

    (a) with the malicious accusations, suspension has provided these children with a power over the staff;

    (b) with misplacement; the suspension has focused attention of the school environment and masked the home environment from any investigation; and

    (c) where the allegations were unfounded, suspension has still undermined the confidence of the staff dealing with these very difficult children.

  29.  Overall, any suspension undermines the best interests of all the pupils. Even one or two day suspensions, cause a deterioration of all the relationships within the school.

  30.  The revised guidance as applied within Special Schools must:

    (a) include reference to the assessment of the risk of false allegations;

    (b) provide for flexibility in the initial response depending on the nature of the allegation; and

    (c) recognise suspension as a last resort rather than the first and only action possible.

The retention of records of allegations found to be false

  31.  Currently, all allegations remain on the personal records of the staff involved whatever the outcome. Even where other parties have been identified as causing the injuries alleged to have been caused by the staff member, the record of the accusation remains on their personal record.

32.  Any revisions to the guidance must include the facility for any staff member to require all accusations proven to be false, unfounded or malicious be removed from their personal records.

  33.  There are children who have been risk-assessed by various professionals as having a potential to make false or malicious allegations. Such risk-assessments should be recorded alongside any allegations retained on personal records

  34.  The records of all actions related to an accusation should be available to the accused upon request. Currently, these records are "confidential", thus preventing the accused from knowing all the evidence being considered against them.

May 2009

1   This is confidential as it might be possible to identify the children, the staff or the school from the data. Back

2   Not printed. Back

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Prepared 16 July 2009