An analysis of official statistics shows that the number of teachers banned for sexual misconduct has plummeted in the past three years, Tes can reveal.
Responding to a Freedom of Information request, the Teacher Regulation Agency (TRA) reported that seven teachers were barred for sexual misconduct in 2018-19, compared with 41 in 2016-17 – equivalent to a drop of 80 per cent in just three years.
Meanwhile, the number of bans relating to a breach of trust or boundaries has risen year on year, from 23 in 2016-17 to 37 in 2018-19.
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When asked about potential explanations for the trends, the Department for Education, speaking on behalf of the TRA, said it did not comment on such cases.
It refused to speculate on why there had been a decline in bans relating to sexual misconduct. But the DfE ruled out a change in classification as being the cause, saying the categories used to group the offences had not changed in the past three years.
A total of 301 teachers were issued with a prohibition order between 2016 and 2019.
Of these, 86 (29 per cent) had breached their position of trust or crossed boundaries in their role, 70 (23 per cent) were guilty of sexual misconduct, and 37 (12 per cent) had acted dishonestly.
'Lack of knowledge about child sex abuse'
Commenting on the dataset as a whole, Amanda Brown, deputy general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "There are nearly 800,000 school staff in England who are subject to the Teaching Regulation Agency. The overwhelming majority of school staff are doing their jobs well and promoting the welfare of children.
"That said, the NEU is clear that any teacher who commits a sexual offence should not be able to continue teaching."
Children's charity Barnardo's did not wish to comment directly on the data, but gave some context to sexual abuse within schools.
Javed Khan, chief executive, said: “Polling for Barnardo’s earlier this year found that people in the UK have a worrying lack of knowledge about what constitutes a crime when it comes to the sexual abuse of children.
“One-in-five people (19 per cent) failed to correctly identify that a teacher having sex with their 16-year-old pupil is a crime, more than a third (35 per cent) of people didn’t think an adult sending sexually explicit images to a 16-year-old over text was illegal or abusive and more than a quarter (27 per cent) of respondents failed to identify that a teacher kissing their 16-year-old student is also illegal.
“When a boy or girl turns 16, that doesn’t mean they can no longer be sexually abused or exploited. Children are children by law until they are 18.
"While 16-year-olds are free to make choices about sex, teachers and other adults who abuse their positions of trust to groom young people under 18 are still committing crimes.
“Barnardo’s frontline services across the UK see first-hand how this abuse can cause long-term harm and affect young people’s attitudes to love, relationships and sex as they move into adulthood.”