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

Memorandum submitted by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF)


  1.  Everyone in the education service shares the objective of helping to keep children and young people safe from harm. Safeguarding children must always be our top priority. It is therefore essential that all allegations are taken seriously and dealt with fairly, quickly and consistently in a way that provides effective protection for children whilst balancing the need to support the person who is the subject of the allegation. We are keenly aware of the effect that false or unfounded allegations can have on a person's health, family, and career. Regrettably, though, some allegations are true. Allegations of abuse can be particularly upsetting, but being abused by a person in a position of trust and authority can have devastating effects on a child.

2.  It is rare for an allegation to be deliberately false or malicious. Most practitioners agree that children making malicious allegations may have complex needs and in some cases may be making the allegation to draw attention to abuse or other issues elsewhere in their life.

3.  We have been working to ensure that the systems for dealing with allegations are fair, rigorous and timely and strike the right balance between providing effective protection for children against abuse and providing support for staff who may upon investigation be found entirely innocent of the allegations.


Allegations of Abuse

  4.  Procedures for handling allegations of abuse made against those who work with children and young people are contained within Chapter 5 of Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education and Appendix 5 of Working Together to Safeguard Children. These procedures apply to all cases where it is alleged that a member of staff (or a volunteer) has:

    —  behaved in a way that has harmed a child, or may have harmed a child; —  possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child; or

    —  behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates s/he is unsuitable to work with children.

  5.  The procedures were introduced in November 2005 for education staff, and in April 2006 for the rest of the children's workforce. The new arrangements introduced the following:

    —  a national standard process built on effective practice;

    —  target timescales for each stage of the process;

    —  better case management and decision making built on close cooperation between agencies; and

    —  better and quicker information sharing, and close liaison between the police and Crown Prosecution Service on criminal investigations.

  6.  In 2007 the Department conducted a review of implementation of guidance on handling allegations of abuse made against those who work with children and young people. The review gathered evidence on the implementation of guidance through a limited public consultation, interviews with key stakeholders, a data collection from local authorities, progress reports by Local Safeguarding Children Boards and a review of media cases. In brief, the review, which has now been published, concluded that:

    —  there are no fundamental problems with the guidance itself that would require substantial revision;

    —  there is a need for more awareness-raising in some sectors to embed the guidance in the wider children's workforce, and practitioners would like further practice guidance on a number of issues; and

    —  more work needs to be carried out with police to explore the scope for speeding up investigations once they have left the local authority.

  7.  Based on these conclusions, we have been taking the following further action:

    —  carrying out further awareness-raising for sectors of the children's workforce to which guidance on allegations was new in 2006. This will be through the safe recruitment guidance which is being produced by the Children's Workforce Development Council;

    —  improving the training offer for allegations management through inclusion of training on allegations in the National College of School Leadership safe recruitment training, and the online training being developed to accompany the CWDC Safe Recruitment guidance; and

    —  producing additional practice guidance on handling allegations for practitioners. This was published for consultation on 13 May. The consultation runs until 7 August.


Allegations of Abuse

  8.  As part of the review, data on allegations was collected via a voluntary collection from Local Authority Designated Officers (LADOs) in England's local authorities. The request covered data for the period 1 April 2007 to 30 September 2007. A total of 130 responses were received, of which two were unusable due to data quality. The results referred to below are collated from 128 returns which account for 85% of local authorities in England.

9.  The total number of allegations referred to the LADOs based on 85% of authorities was 4,069 in the period 1 April 2007—30 September 2007. These originated from the following employment sectors:
EmployerPercentage (as %of total referrals):
Social Care13.2%
Health  2.1%
Foster Carers12.0%
Police  1.2%
Secure Estate  2.6%

10.  These figures reflect allegations being reported across the entire children's workforce. The majority of allegations are minor and fewer than 10% result in dismissals but it is important that all allegations are handled effectively, including consulting the LADO so that independent consideration can be given and consistency maintained. The number of allegations reported shows that more allegations are being reported to LADOs, as recommended by the guidance.

  11.  Data was also collected on the nature of abuse broken down by the types of abuse described in Working Together to Safeguard Children. This showed the following:
EmployerPhysical EmotionalSexual Neglect
Social Care57.8%   9.5%27.1%  5.7%
Health44.6%  3.6% 41.0%10.8%
Education61.6%  6.8% 29.3%  2.4%
Foster Carers58.7%12.7% 19.1%  9.5%
Police40.4%  4.3% 51.1%  4.3%
Secure Estate76.2%  5.7% 16.2%  1.9%
Other46.8%  6.5% 40.5%  6.2%
Total58.0%  7.7% 29.8%  4.5%

  12.  The data shows that on average across agencies there is a higher percentage of allegations relating to physical abuse (58%), followed by sexual abuse (29.8), emotional abuse (7.7%) and neglect (4.5%). Secure Estate had a much higher percentage of allegations relating to physical abuse (76.2%) than the other abuse. Police reported more allegations relating to sexual abuse (51.1%) than physical abuse (40.4%).


  13.  We appreciate that teachers and other education staff feel vulnerable to being identified because of their public profile. Our guidance is clear that every effort should be made to maintain confidentiality. The present system of self-regulation, overseen by the Press Complaints Commission, provides safeguards against the publication of inaccurate or misleading information. The Association of Chief Police Officers has also strengthened its guidance to police forces aimed at preventing people being identified if they are not charged with a criminal offence.

14.  The evidence collected during the review suggested that the current guidance on confidentiality is working well. The wide majority of respondents to the consultation experienced no problems with breaches of confidentiality. Out of 96 responses to the consultation all but three requested further guidance and training on this issue, usually related to information sharing, rather than legal anonymity.

  15.  The review obtained a number of examples of best practice in schools, for example where staff, pupils and parents have been informed by letter of an allegation on the morning that a teacher went to court but confidentiality had been maintained up until that point. The media review revealed very few recent cases of press reporting on allegations before a charge has been made, and we were not made aware of significant cases through the consultation responses or interviews.

  16.  The Press Complaints Commission also confirmed that it has received very few complaints from people facing allegations of abuse being reported in the press. This suggests that the current arrangements are working well.


  17.  Local authorities and governing bodies are responsible for putting in place appropriate procedures to deal with grievances, breaches of discipline and dismissal. In turn the governing body is responsible for setting out disciplinary rules and procedures for dealing with a lack of capability on the part of any member of staff employed at the school. They must also have procedures for staff to follow if they have a grievance or complaint about their employment.

18.  The capability and disciplinary procedures should be designed to help and encourage staff to maintain standards of conduct, attendance and job performance. A consistent application of these procedures should offer schools, as employers, a mechanism to achieve the required high standards from staff whilst offering fair and equitable treatment, and offer employees protection against unfair action by the employer.

  19.  These basic principles have been agreed by the trade unions:

  A typical disciplinary procedure will have the following stages:

    —  A formal, oral warning in the case of a minor offence.

    —  A written warning for subsequent minor offences or a more serious offence.

    —  A final written warning for further misconduct. The warning should make it clear that dismissal may follow failure to comply.

    —  Dismissal with appropriate notice will follow if there is insufficient improvement.


  20.  The Employment Rights Act 1996 requires the employer to provide written information to their employees about certain aspects of the disciplinary procedure.

21.  All governing bodies of maintained schools have a duty to establish disciplinary rules and procedures and ensure that they are made known to staff. It is the responsibility of the head teacher to manage the disciplinary procedures as part of his or her professional duties and to ensure that proper levels of staff performance are established and maintained.


  22.  The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is empowered to produce codes of practice on disciplinary rules and procedures. These codes provide employers with practical guidance on how to draw up and effectively operate disciplinary rules and procedures. ACAS has recently revised the Code of Practice on Disciplinary and grievance Procedures with effect from 6 April 2009.

23.  Breach of the ACAS codes does not render the employer liable to the proceedings, but a failure to follow the code could be taken into consideration by a subsequent Employment Tribunal (ET). In deciding on whether a dismissal is unfair the ET is primarily concerned with the fairness of the procedures followed by the employer prior to a dismissal.

  24.  ACAS guidelines on what should be included in disciplinary proceedings include the following:

    —  State the type of action and penalties which can result from unacceptable conduct.

    —  Have a clear timetable for dealing with disciplinary matters.

    —  Give full details of the disciplinary offence. Investigate the alleged disciplinary offence before disciplinary action is taken.

    —  If suspension of the employee during the investigation is considered necessary, it should be for as short a period as possible.

    —  Allow employee to be accompanied by a colleague or union representative.

    —  Allow employees to state their case before a decision is made. Unless in the case of gross misconduct, not to dismiss on first offence.

    —  Provide the employee with the right of appeal. If appropriate, indicate the type of offence that would be considered gross misconduct.


  25.  The opportunity to appeal against a disciplinary action is essential to natural justice. Appeals should be dealt with as promptly as possible. The time limit usually set for lodging appeals is five working days. Individuals should be informed of arrangements for appeal hearings and also of their right to be accompanied. The individual should be informed of the result of the hearing as soon as possible and this should be confirmed in writing.


  26.  Our guidance sets out where suspension is relevant, although each case will turn on its own facts. Governing bodies need to be sure that they are acting reasonably and have grounds for the suspension and accordingly are encouraged to obtain legal advice where necessary.

27.  Suspension should only occur where there is reasonable evidence to demonstrate that the individual's presence at work could be prejudicial to the investigation in any way, or for example if it is necessary to suspend in order to protect children, or is in the public interest. The reasonableness of an employer's action will depend on the evidence in their possession at the time of the suspension.

  28.  An additional point to note is that the suspension should not be for longer than is strictly necessary. The employer must act reasonably and diligently once the individual is suspended. A failure to proceed promptly could justify an employee resigning and claiming unfair constructive dismissal. Furthermore, alternatives to suspension should also be considered. It may be that alternatives would not be appropriate but it is important to be able to demonstrate and record that alternatives were considered and rejected.

  29.  The Department's review found that the use of suspension has improved, in the sense that it is being used as an automatic response to allegations less often. However, practitioners said that they would like to see more practice guidance and case studies to help them in deciding whether suspension is appropriate in certain situations. The draft practice guidance referred to in paragraph 7 above contains an annex on suspension setting out when suspension should be considered, alternatives to suspension, the process for considering and managing suspension, and guidance on supporting the individual.


  30.  Paragraph 5.10 of Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education says:

    "It is important that a clear and comprehensive summary of any allegations made, details of how the allegation was followed up and resolved, and a note of any action taken and decisions reached, is kept on a person's confidential personnel file, and a copy provided to the person concerned. The purpose of the record is to enable accurate information to be given in response to any future request for a reference if the person has moved on. It will provide clarification in cases where a future CRB Disclosure reveals information about an allegation that did not result in a criminal conviction. And it will help to prevent unnecessary re-investigation if, as sometimes happens, an allegation re-surfaces after a period of time. The record should be retained at least until the person has reached normal retirement age or for a period of 10 years from the date of the allegation if that is longer".

      31.  However, we do intend to amend guidance to make clear that allegations which have been investigated and demonstrated to be completely untrue do not need to be included in teachers' references. This will be done as part of the revisions to Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education planned to take account of the vetting and barring scheme being implemented under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act.

    May 2009

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