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Managers to shield staff from pupil lies

But unions say the Government's 'vague' guidance will increase trivial allegations. Michael Shaw reports.

An "allegations manager" and a special disciplinary panel will be appointed in every local authority as part of government plans to protect teachers from false accusations by pupils.

But teaching unions have warned that the proposals could result in school staff being investigated for such innocent behaviour as touching a student's hand.

The Department for Education and Skills has been consulting on a range of plans to speed up the process for handling allegations by pupils against teachers.

Ministers hope the proposals will reduce the proportion of allegations which take more than three months to investigate from 32 per cent to 5 per cent.

Under the plans, every local authority will be required to appoint a senior officer to overlook accusations against education staff. Authorities should also establish an independent panel of people trained in conducting investigations into allegations, which could produce a report within 10 days of being contacted by a school.

Unions have broadly welcomed the plans, saying that they could prevent some unfounded cases reaching the courts.

But the National Union of Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association have warned the Government that the guidance does not make clear which incidents schools should report.

The proposals state that schools must refer all cases to their local allegations manager where "the accused person's behaviour may constitute a criminal offence or a child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering significant harm".

The NUT said the definition of harm was too vague and could increase the number of cases being investigated outside schools.

"The vast majority of allegations reported to us by members are trivial and should be dealt with within schools," the union said.

"Examples given by union officers are allegations that a teacher has tripped on a pupil sitting on a carpeted area, a teacher stopping a pupil in the corridor having seen an incident between pupils, a teacher removing a pupil from class.

"It would be disproportionate for such matters to be referred to an action meeting involving outside agencies."

The SHA said it was also concerned that schools would feel forced to report trivial matters to allegation managers.

"One firm of leading education lawyers has recently had to deal with an accusation that a teacher slammed a door in a child's face and another that a teacher was guilty of inappropriate contact because she placed a hand on a child's in order to guide a computer mouse," it said.

"Both of these could be seen as falling within the categories of allegations that should be referred to the allegations manager."

The DfES said it would be taking the unions' responses into account before publishing its final plans, expected later this year.

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