KNEEJERK action against staff accused of using excessive force against pupils risks causing chaos in schools, it has been claimed.
Gerry Gamble, chair of the National Association of Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties Schools, claimed several schools where staff had been suspended had ended up being closed or reorganised - even where the allegations proved unfounded - following long investigations. His association is due to discuss restraint issues today at its annual conference.
Of the 40 heads and deputies currently suspended in England and Wales, almost a quarter face allegations of using too much force to restrain pupils.
At least three of the latter group of heads and deputies have been out of school for two-and-a-half years. A further two have been suspended since last July.
Bernard Allen, association executive member, said staff suspensions could last for years and leave schools understaffed, under-resourced and demoralised.
Mr Allen, a member of the Department for Education and Employment's advisory group on EBD, added: "People panic and suspend the head or teacher in the beliefthey are protecting children.
"Irrespective of the outcome, we must have a system for schools to survive the investigation process. We need protocols to ensure people think through the implications of what's going to happen beforehand."
One major problem, he said, was that there was a lack of agreement nationally on what constituted "significant harm" to pupils, the trigger for child protection investigations.
He said: "We have got a problem if what is considered acceptable practice in Durham is called child abuse in Dorset."
He suggested the new national framework for inspecting residential children's homes and residential schools - to be introduced next year - should be extended to cover investigations of child protection issues in school.
The National Association of Head Teachers is urging protection for school staff under suspension.
Its call echoes that of Tory leader William Hague who has called for the right to anonymity for accused staff, up to the point where police bring charges.
Government consultations on promoting positive handling strategies for pupils with severe behavioural difficulties close on July 7. Copies of draft guidelines are available at www.dfee.gov.uksenbehave.htm