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Guidelines aim to tackle abuse claims

Teacher unions have welcomed new guidelines on how schools should protect children from abuse and deal with staff facing false allegations.

The Department for Education and Employment has published two circulars, advising on the role of the education service in child protection, and on teachers' misconduct.

The first circular covers physical contact between teachers and pupils, and the DFEE goes into detail about what teachers should do if a member of staff or the head is accused of abuse, and what support should be offered to teachers suspended pending investigation.

Kay Jenkins, an assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers said: "We welcome the circular because it is now giving helpful and authoritative guidance which was badly needed.

"The advice on practice and procedures following an allegation of physical or sexual abuse against a teacher is the result of detailed work done by local education authorities and the six teacher organisations.

"We are pleased the DFEE has appended our recommendations and is commending them," she added.

Allegations of physical and sex abuse against teachers have risen dramatically in recent years. Since January 1991, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has dealt with 450 police investigations, leading to 34 prosecutions and 23 convictions.

Teacher unions have been extremely worried about innocent lives being wrecked, and say that cases often appear to be prejudged, with staff sometimes suspended immediately after an allegation.

The new guidelines state that headteachers should undertake initial assessments before deciding whether to call the police, social services, or the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, conduct a school-level investigation, or take no action.

Social services directors and the police were initially unhappy with the draft guidelines which, they felt, gave heads too much leeway.

However, Brian Waller, chair of the Association of Directors of Social Services' children and families committee, said the final wording had given heads less discretion.

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