Many in teaching believe the proper balance between child and adult rights has yet to be struck, with lives being wrecked by false allegations. The National Association of Head Teachers's general secretary, Mick Brookes, says his union will be investigating legal redress for heads and teachers subject to frivolous or malicious allegations. "We think the local authority, as the employer, should take that action on behalf of its employees against children or their families," he says.
Support group FACT (Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers) regards such allegations as a life-threatening issue. At least three of its members have committed suicide in the past two years; others have contemplated it. FACT secretary Michael Barnes says: "There is a strong case for arguing that there ought to be some formal remedies. At the moment there is nothing."
The Department for Education and Skills recently published new guidance designed to speed up the process of dealing with allegations of abuse against teachers and support staff. It sets out standard procedures for all local authorities in England to replace local practice and is intended to ensure cases are dealt with consistently in all areas.
The advice says that all allegations must be "seen to be followed up and taken seriously" - including being examined by someone independent of the school concerned. Details of allegations - and their outcome - must be kept on personnel files for at least 10 years.
Other key points include:
* Using designated officers in the police and local authorities to sift cases at the outset, improve decision-making and consistency, and actively manage cases to cut out delays;
* Agreement by the police and Crown Prosecution Service to liaise and review the progress of criminal investigations to ensure they are concluded quickly;
* Advice to police and social services about getting consent to share information when it is obtained, so it can be shared straight away when the investigation is complete, and on indicative timescales for stages of the disciplinary process.
The guidance also covers the need to provide support for children who may have been abused, and staff who are accused, while allegations are investigated; the need to maintain confidentiality while cases are under investigation and a recommendation to avoid automatic suspension. The Government advises that if an allegation is found to be false, "the headteacher should consider whether any disciplinary action is appropriate against the pupil who made it".