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Abuse guide to protect accused

NEW guidance on child abuse will do more to protect teachers against false allegations, The TES can reveal.

The Department for Education and Skills is planning to update current regulations, contained in Circular 1095, on how teachers should handle suspected cases of child abuse . "A review ... is being prepared for consultation now," said a spokesman.

There will be new proposals on child protection as well as a significant section on staff protection following the Marjorie Evans case (see page 7).

Adrian Underwood, director of the Boarding Schools Association, said:

"They will strengthen the whole area of staff protection."

Mr Underwood, who is a member of the DFES consultative committee, said the issue had a heightened profile following Mrs Evans' case.

The Welsh headteacher was given a suspended prison sentence for allegedly assaulting a child, but was later exonerated. She said the ordeal had been "extraordinarily distressing".

Mr Underwood said: "Since Marjorie Evans there has been some feeling about the protection of staff. But this is first and foremost about the welfare of children."

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said: "In cases of physical abuse, the assumption should be innocence rather than guilt. We hope the regulations will follow that through."

The consultation comes as a new service offering free counselling sessions to teachers facing accusations of assaulting or sexually abusing pupils is to open next month.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers is linking with the Teacher Support Network to offer the service to members amid concerns about unfounded allegations.

Teachers who have been suspended and are facing an interview with the police will be able, on the advice of union officers, to access the one-to-one, 50-minute sessions, locally. Counselling will be confidential, although teachers will be warned that if they admit an offence, the information could be passed to the police.

The NASUWT says it has dealt with 1,200 instances over the last 10 years of teachers suspended on charges of abuse.

In the vast majority of cases, says the union, the teacher is reinstated after an interview with police. Yet the emotional impact of allegations can be serious, causing some staff to give up teaching.

The service, which starts on April 1, will be available through NASUWT officers only. Teachers should contact their regional centre, or the union's headquarters.

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