Heads too quick to believe false allegations, MPs report

24th July 2009 at 01:00
Failure to assume teachers are `innocent until proven guilty' is ruining lives and reputations

Headteachers are too quick to suspend staff and under too much pressure to report cases to local authorities once an allegation is made by a pupil, Westminster MPs said last week.

In a report looking into false allegations faced by teachers, the Commons schools select committee said more needed to be done to ensure that members of staff were "innocent until proven guilty", and demanded the Government take "immediate action" to prevent more "lives from being ruined".

The committee also called for the Government to amend its guidance to allow headteachers to handle some allegations internally, while giving the newly-formed Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) discretion over what information should be disclosed to prospective employers following an allegation.

Barry Sheerman, select committee chairman, said: "There is a fine balance to be struck between safeguarding the rights of children and the rights of those who work with children. Allegations proven to be true must be punished. But the vast majority of complaints made against school staff have little or no foundation. My committee heard shocking evidence about the treatment of accused staff and the devastating impact that unfounded allegations of misconduct can have on those involved, which can ruin careers and can come at a significant physical, mental and financial cost."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Union of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, agreed that headteachers can be too quick off the mark, but added: "They are between a rock and a hard place at the moment, because they do not feel they have the backing to make these decisions on child protection issues. They feel vulnerable and often err on the side of caution, so the system needs to change to give heads more confidence."

The National Union of Teachers backed the findings, calling them "incisive and comprehensive".

The committee said it was "shocked" at some methods used by employers, such as preventing suspended teachers from meeting colleagues even outside of school after an allegation had been made. This was "inhumane" and "unjust".

During the evidence session last month, MPs heard that one teacher was prevented from having unaccompanied access to his baby daughter following a false allegation, while another was forbidden from watching his son play rugby.

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