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New abuse guidelines welcomed

Teacher unions have welcomed new guidance on allegations of child abuse against teachers issued this week by schools minister Eric Forth, writes Diane Spencer.

The draft circulars on child protection and procedures for dealing with misconduct by teachers are broadly based on guidance for schools issued by the Council of Local Education Authorities and the unions last year. These were revised jointly with police and directors of social services following criticism by their respective professional associations that they gave teachers more rights than children.

The new guidelines aim to give clear procedures which will protect children, but which will keep the damaging effects of a false allegation to a minimum. The unions have been increasingly worried about the number of teachers suspended or dismissed on very little, or no evidence in the wake of the 1989 Children Act.

The new rules will allow the Education Secretary to bar automatically people convicted of sexual offences against children, but not those cautioned for such an offence. Procedures will be tightened up for reinstating barred teachers.

The child protection circular emphasises the key role teachers have in helping to identify children suffering abuse, the importance of close co-operation between schools and local child protection agencies and the leading part played by designated teachers trained in child protection procedures.

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