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Staff afraid of the changing rooms

Call for child protection progress at law conference. Ian Cameron reports

Teachers in south Wales are afraid of going into swimming-pool changing rooms in case they are accused of sexual abuse, a union conference heard.

The claims were made as the Assembly government promised a meeting later this moth will discuss recommendations for improving child protection, arising from last summer's Clywch inquiry.

Brian Hughes, of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, told the Cardiff conference on education law that male teachers in Torfaen had raised concerns about school swimming lessons.

Mr Hughes said: "It is a sad situation. It has got to the stage where teachers are afraid of going into changing rooms because of the dangers of being accused."

NUT legal services solicitor Amanda Brown said: "Teachers have to feel safe and schools should have policies formulated by heads and governors."

The problem was one of several voiced at the NUT conference, attended by staff from schools throughout Wales. Neil Foden, head of Friars secondary school in Bangor, said parents were demanding that their children not be given detention because of worries about their safety on the way home.

But Dyfed-Powys chief constable Terence Grange said the risk was minimal and 99 per cent of abuse cases took place in the home. "It is a load of baloney and teachers should not fall for it."

The conference heard that teachers were now fearful of giving young children a cuddle.

Mr Grange said: "People are putting up imaginary dangers - you need to be sensible."

Peter Clarke, Wales's children's commissioner, said: "I'm not one who says you must never touch children. We just need to use common sense."

He joined with NUT Cymru leaders to call for the urgent reconvening of a task force looking into the Clwych inquiry recommendations.

He said: "There has been just one meeting last September. By the end of the summer I expect to see significant and substantial progress."

The Assembly government has said the task force will meet again by the end of the month and that education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson will make a statement to Assembly members on progress on Clywch in March.

The task force is made up of representatives from the Assembly, police forces, education authorities and teaching unions.

NUT Cymru is particularly concerned about Clywch proposals for independent tribunals, chaired by lawyers, being set up to adjudicate on child abuse cases.

Gethin Lewis, its secretary, said: "Since September we have heard nothing.

The whole business has been put on the back-burner.

"We want to know what the position of school governors and local education authorities would be in determining future disputes. We don't really want to see the authority of governors and LEAs being taken away from them."

The Clwych inquiry investigated abuses by Pontypridd drama teacher John Owen, who later committed suicide before he was due to appear in court.

Mr Clarke made 31 recommendations following a two-year investigation into the allegations against Owen.

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