Memorandum submitted by Professor Pat
Sikes, School of Education, University of Sheffield and Dr Heather
Piper, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Education, Manchester
Over the past six years we have conducted in-depth,
qualitative study of the perceptions and experiences of (approximately
15) male teachers, (and their family members and friends and colleagues),
who have been accused of sexual misconduct with female students
which they say they did not commit and of which they have either
eventually been cleared or the case has been dismissed or withdrawn
due to insufficient evidence. Some of the people we spoke with
served prison sentences, others did not, but all attest to having
gone through a protracted and distressing investigation process,
which, in their view, was exacerbated:
by suspension, by isolation
as a result of prohibitions on contact with colleagues,
by attempts to maintain the anonymity
of the accuser,
by measures aimed at maintaining
secrecy about what was alleged to have taken place, and which
had continuing repercussions for
mental and physical health, and for family members, and
adversely affected ability to continue
working as a teacher, or in any other way with young people, and
insult was added to injury because of
lack of punishment of, and absence
of, consequences for their accusers.
1. We want to emphasise that we have undertaken
this study as independent academics with backgrounds in researching
teachers' and other professionals' anxieties about touching children
(Piper and Stronach, 2008: Piper, Stronach and MacLure, 2006)
and teacher-pupil consensual relationships (Sikes, 2006). We have
written a book based on our findings (Sikes and Piper, 2009to
be published by Routledge, in December, 2009) and this submission
reflects its content, arguments, and our experience of researching
this critically sensitive topic.
2. Researching allegations which are claimed
to be false is not easy. Establishing unequivocal truth, especially
when what is alleged to have occurred is usually said to have
taken place in private with only the accuser and the accused present,
is close to impossible. We are well aware of the difficulties
and we did all that we could to satisfy ourselves that the people
we spoke with really were innocent of the offences they were accused
of. From what we were told, we cannot be certain that this was
always the case in the investigations that our informants experienced.
However, in every case the investigation was either dropped or
culminated in a `not guilty' outcome. In our book we discuss at
length the ethical and methodological issues involved in such
research, and the considered choices which we made.
3. The notion that children are always innocent
has contributed to the underpinning and guiding principle of UK
(and other countries') child protection policies and legislation,
to the effect that the starting point of any investigation is
the tenet that children never lie about abuse. "Children"
is frequently taken to apply to all those under 18 and this generalisation
can lead to difficulties since, while it is highly unlikely that
a four year old could describe sexual intercourse in detail if
they had not experienced or observed it, the idea that a 15 year
old who is angry with one of their teachers is incapable of falsehood
concerning sexual behaviour is far less plausible. Not only this,
but the "master narrative" of innocence and its concomitant
premise that children never lie about sexual abuse, coupled with
moral panic around paedophilia and child abuse, distorts and sexualises
perceptions and understandings. It can lead to teachers being
accused of sexual misconduct on the basis of actions and behaviours
and comments which had quite another intention and motivation.
It also, of course, lays a way open for malicious allegations
to be made and believed. Acknowledging this is not, in any degree
whatsoever, to suggest that children should not be protected but
it does seem that in many places throughout the world, we have
now reached a situation where adults in general, and those who
work with young people in particular, are frightened of having
their innocent actions misconstrued.
4. Attempting to establish that wrong doing
has occurred does not and should not require that one party be
assumed to be more likely to be telling the truth than the other.
In the past the benefit was on the teacher's side, now it is in
favour of the youngster. Both of these extremes are damaging and
both can lead to contravention of the basic human rights to safety
and to justice, which should be enjoyed by both pupils and teachers.
In summary, the necessary balance between the rights of the child
(and also the entitlements and rights of parents in the school
system) on the one hand, and the rights and professional status
of teachers on the other, has been tilted inappropriately. The
result is that damage has been done to the personal and professional
rights and security of teachers, which can only result in higher
turnover and lower quality in the workforce. The Committee is
urged to address this wider context, as well as more procedural
5. Our book is focused on individual experiences
and narratives from those involved in allegations. The research
was not funded, and so a systematic enquiry into procedures and
regulatory practice was impossible. As a result, in considering
the question "How could things be done differently?"
we only make tentative suggestions. The following text (italicised)
is taken directly from our concluding discussion of these issues
and should please be referenced appropriately if used elsewhere
(see Sikes and Piper, 2009):
Children and young people of different ages
are not a homogenous category and the doctrinaire presumption
that children never lie about abuse should be tempered by a contextual
assessment of the relevant circumstances surrounding allegation
against a professional, which would include the age and known
characteristics of the child/young person.
We do not agree that following an allegation
a teacher should immediately and automatically be suspended. Suspension
is not and cannot be in these circumstances a neutral act: as
Lord Justice Sedley, has stated "suspension changes the status
quo from work to no work, and it invariably casts a shadow over
the employee's competence. Of course this does not mean that it
cannot be done, but it is not a neutral act" (England and
Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division), 2007). We suggest, rather,
a cooling down period of a day or so where teachers or others
who know the child/young person well, are able to talk with them
in a non threatening way. During this short period the teacher
could still be prevented from having contact with students (as
is recommended in DfES, 2004a, but, in our experience, rarely
employed) but crucially in a way that does not presuppose guilt.
It seems very likely that a number of false allegations could
be resolved at this early stage before everyone becomes entrenched
in their polarised position, and where a child or young person
who has lied and invested so much emotional and social capital
in their narrative becomes unable to retract their allegation.
We believe the current system which prevents
teachers from talking to their friends and colleagues to be inhumane.
A situation can arise where a child who has lied is still able
to talk to their friends and get their story "right"
but the teacher becomes isolated and disempowered from the start.
It is perhaps surprising that any teachers are found not guilty
given this imbalance in the treatment of pupils and teachers.
We would wish teachers' anonymity to be preserved
throughout, not just so as to preserve the anonymity of a child
but because of the consequences of "no smoke without fire"
for subsequent career possibilities, and the vigilante type activity
which such naming encourages. We appreciate full anonymity is
impossible as children talk, as do parents, but a total ban on
reporting could help to keep it local in the first instance (Facebook
Our cases suggest that once an investigation
is in play, the interests of natural justice are not well served
by current procedures. Thus the insights of other professionals,
parents and children closest to the situation are not investigated
in an open handed way, but rather the priority is to build a case
to support a prosecution. In almost every case there is likely
to be a sizable contrast between the investigatory resource of
the prosecution and the defence, and of course the accused individual
is forbidden to have any direct input. Given that verdicts in
child care cases tend to be on the balance of probabilities, these
realities again make the task of proving innocence that much harder.
We suggest the current judicial processes
do not serve the best interests of either children or teachers
in these situations. It may be that a process more akin to that
which occurs in a family court is more appropriate, where the
process is less oppositional and those involved are trained and
better able to deal with the complex issues. Only if the need
for a full criminal prosecution is then confirmed should the full
prosecutor process be applied.
To suggest that a more rounded and even handed
investigative process would be beneficial in cases of sexual allegations
against teachers (and other professionals in child care settings)
should not be taken to indicate a "soft" attitude towards
teachers or child protection. Beyond the obvious principled issue
of natural justice, and the more pragmatic one which can be summed
up as "why in current circumstances would a sane adult place
themselves at risk by being a teacher?", is the fact that
a more inclusive process would cut both ways. We may be concerned
by stories of the type told to us, but we are just as concerned
that actual cases of abuse are identified and dealt with. Current
procedures can all too easily miss a pupil's story which needs
to be read between the lines, and can also prove so intimidating
that some real cases go nowhere as a more timid child clams up.
Thus, a different type of process could have
benefits for both teacher (as individuals and for the profession)
and pupils, and also for justice itself. However, if an allegation
is proved to be false, we think it is wrong that currently most
young people experience no negative effects and are certainly
not punished. The length of time the case often takes may be a
contributory factor, but pupils should be made aware that there
are consequences to their actions, and to allow false allegations
to be exempt from normal sanctions sends a clear message that
such behaviour is not considered serious and that it is easy to
get away with itit also implies doubt in regard to any
"not guilty" verdict. This is not the way to treat professionals
who can be considered to have chosen a "risky" vocation.
Our research focused on accusations of sexual
misconduct. According to Investigation and Referral Support Co-ordinators
data (DfES, 2004b), only around one third of allegations made
against teachers fall into this category. In fact teachers are
much more likely to be accused of physical abuse and when they
are they face the same investigative procedures and the same potentially
protracted period of uncertainty and suspicion. Hitting, restraining
or in other ways physically hurting children who may themselves
have been behaving in inappropriate or unacceptable ways does
not seem to incur the same degree of public opprobrium as alleged
sexual abuse: the legacy of "spare the rod and spoil the
child" is pervasive and tenacious. However, for a teacher
accused of physical wrong doing which they claim they have not
perpetrated, the consequences for and effects upon their careers
and their well being are no different than for those faced with
6. Finally, we believe that this inquiry
would benefit from a consideration of a test case ruling made
in relation to nurses earlier in 2009. Four nurses had been suspended
from duty and placed on list banning them from working during
an enquiry following a complaint about their alleged mistreatment
of vulnerable adults under the Protection of Vulnerable Adults
(POVA) legislation. However, the Law Lords ruled "that nurses
have the right to be heard before they can be suspended from work
under the... POVA schemewhich has been deemed to be in
contravention of human rights" (Staines, 2009). It is expected
that this test case will pave the way for at least another 50-100
such cases currently going through the European Court of Human
Rights in Strasbourg. Words like "unfair and unjust"
and "disproportionate in their adverse effects on the rights
of care workers" were applied to the care standards provisions
applied to nurses. We suggest that if nurses have had their human
rights contravened by such treatment, then so too must have teachers.
We hope that the current inquiry and future legal process reaches
a similar conclusion.
Thresholds for and Alternatives to Suspension, London:
DfES (2004b) Proposals for Dealing with Allegations
against Teachers and Other Staff: A Consultation, London:
England and Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
(2007) Case of Mezey vs South West London and St George's Mental
Health NHS Trust, available at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2007/106.html
(accessed 20 March 2009).
Piper, H and Stronach, I (2008) Don't Touch: The
Educational Story of a Panic, London: Routledge.
Piper, H, MacLure, M and Stronach, I (2006) Touchlines:
The Problematics of Touching between Children and Professionals,
ESRC funded project RES-000-22-0815. available at: http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/ViewAwardPage.aspx?AwardId=3451
(accessed 10 May 2009).
Sikes, P and Piper, H (in press for publication 2009)
Sex and Lies in the Classroom, London: Routledge.
Sikes, P (2006) Scandalous Stories and Dangerous
Liaisons: When Male Teachers and Female Pupils Fall in Love
Sex Education 6, 3, pp 265-280.
Staines, R (2009) Nurses' human rights were breached
under POVA scheme, Law Lords rule, Nursing Times, 27
January 2009, available at http://www.nursingtimes.net/whats-new-in-nursing/nurses%E2%80%99-human-rights-were-breached-under-pova-scheme-law-lords-rule/1975700.article
(accessed 6 May 2009).