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Schools losing power to courts, say unions

As a teacher is sentenced for assault, the NUT condemns the rise of our 'litigious society'. Nic Barnard reports.

UNIONS fear that growing numbers of allegations by pupils are ending in the courts instead of being dealt with by schools. They voiced their concerns after a teacher was ordered to pay pound;100 compensation to a boy she assaulted in her classroom.

Catherine Brandley, 52, says she will appeal against her sentence to carry out 140 hours' community service and pay compensation to the nine-year-old. She was sentenced on Monday after being found guilty of common assault by Crewe magistrates in June.

She was said to have pulled the boy off a chair by his shirt, prodded him in the chest and pushed him against a wall, banging his head, in an incident last September - just five days into her new job at a primary school in Sandbach, Cheshire. She denied the charge.

Unions believe social services now refer to the police many cases which local authorities and school governors would once have dealt with.

Andy Kent, north-west regional officer of Mrs Brandley's union, the National Union of Teachers, said: "Normally we would have expected this to be dealt with by internal procedures. But now it is going to drag on well into 2002."

The mother of the boy, who suffers from attention deficit disorder, said this week she pushed for court action because she had received no assurances from the local authority that Mrs Brandley would be disciplined. Chris Keates, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said police often took action after pressure from parents. "Society is getting more litigious and internal procedures rarely satisfy parents."

Teachers have faced a growing number of allegations of assault over the past decade. The NASUWT alone recorded a rise from 43 in 1991 to 163 last year.

Mrs Brandley, a teacher for 20 years, has been suspended since the incident and still faces a governors' inquiry after the appeal. Unions call the governors' inquiry a "double whammy". It further dragged out the ordeal for Marjorie Evans, the Welsh headteacher convicted and then acquitted of assaulting a pupil. Ms Keates warned that teachers now face a "triple whammy", with court and governors' hearings followed by action by the General Teaching Council.

Crewe Magistrates Court heard Mrs Brandley acted after the boy had been firing staples from a gun at classmates and shouting about going to the toilet. The court heard she took him out to a corridor and later told the boy's mother she had wanted to "put the fear of God" into him.

Mr Kent, regional officer for the NUT, said Mrs Brandley had been sentenced on the uncorroborated evidence of a nine-year-old. "This sends out a chilling message to teachers."

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