Case study: Why can't I work?

20th February 2004 at 00:00
"Not guilty," the jury foreman said. My family, my friends and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Finally, we could get back to a normal life. When the verdict was delivered at the end of my two-day trial after accusations by a pupil of sexual assault, we shouldn't really have been surprised. When questioned, she had decided that "it didn't really happen like that". Of course, it could all have finished so much earlier had police and social service procedures allowed for a little common sense.

This was 10 years ago and, as the various agencies were quick to point out to me at the time, "children don't lie about such important matters". The process had dragged on for two years, reducing me to a depression and stress-induced angina, all of which eventually led to early retirement. But last September I decided that I'd like to try to get back to work. I didn't think I was past it in my late forties, and felt I still had a few useful years left in me. Despite my experiences, I actually like teaching. It's the only job I have ever wanted to do.

The supply agencies in my area signed me up and found me work straight away. I was open about my "history" and, as I'd never been suspended by the DfES and was not on list 99, there was no problem. After two months teaching in a variety of schools, I realised that I still found the work just as much fun.

So when I saw a permanent job at a local school advertised in The TES, I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring. Not with any great expectations, but to test the water. To my delight I got the full-time permanent post. But the school needed a supply teacher urgently and asked if I could start straight away. I agreed. It was such a great feeling getting back to work.

All was going well and I'd been at the school for nearly two weeks when the head invited me into her office. It was not, as I thought, to discuss extending my supply contract until my permanent post came up. The LEA had called to say that she was not, under any circumstances, to allow me to continue to work in the school. The head of personnel had discussed my history with her saying that the LEA had no record of the result of my trial and, until their investigations were completed, I was not suitable for employment.

Up to a point, I understood the authority's point of view. They had not yet received a copy of my Criminal Records Bureau form and I was certain they simply wanted to be sure that there was no stain on my record. What I found harder to understand, however, was why they did not simply ask me.

Thankfully, not working at my "new school" was hardly a problem. The supply agencies still wanted me. A quick phone call got me a week's work in another local school. But in the middle of that week I got a call from the agency's head. She told me they were very sorry but they couldn't allow me to finish the week. When I asked why, she said her office had received a call from head office and that a further explanation would be available the following day.

I didn't need to call them. I returned home that evening, Wednesday, December 17, and found the reason on the news. That same afternoon, Ian Huntley had been found guilty of the Soham murders. It turned out that there was a history of accusations against him; cases which had never gone to trial or been fully examined.

I felt sure my situation would soon be sorted out. How long could it take? As soon as the authority and agency saw my CRB form and realised that I'd been found not guilty, I'd be able to get back to work.

It's now February, and I haven't heard a word from my LEA. The head who appointed me has been very supportive and was willing to wait for the situation to resolve itself. In the end, however, I felt so bad for her that I withdrew from the post. In good faith she had appointed me. Now she didn't have a teacher; her staff complement was one down. So I'm back at square one. A teacher who would love to go back to work in a shortage subject but who isn't allowed to. Why should I be treated as though I have done something wrong and be deprived of the chance to teach? In disclosing details of unproven allegations, both the chief constable and the head of personnel of my LEA acted unfairly. They gave no consideration to the outcome of my case or to the impact that such revelations might have on my life. At the very least, they should have told me what they planned to do and allowed me to consult with them. My union, which supported me through my trial 10 years ago - including paying for my barrister - is now approaching my LEA to find out why I can't work.

More thought needs to be given to how society deals with cases such as mine. We all want the children in our schools to be safe, but there is no place for witch hunts or discrimination. The agencies involved in child abuse work - schools, social services and the police - should seek to balance the interests of the investigation with the need to minimise the stress to the person who may be wrongly accused of serious offences.

The writer, who wants to remain anonymous, was a maths teacher in the Midlands

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