Headteachers in the dock

8th September 2000 at 01:00
ON one level there is no connection between the cases of Sheena Taylor and Marjorie Evans. The Monmouthshire headteacher was convicted of common assault on a pupil and had to go to the appeal court to clear her name. Mrs Taylor (page four) was not involved in a criminal or police matter. Her problem arose with the governors of the independent school she led, and then with the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

But the two heads share much. First, their right to privacy was taken away from them - legitimately, it is true, because the media have the right to inquire into questions over a head's conduct, yet painful for all that. Second, their cases raise concerns about the risks run by teachers, and heads in particular, because of the ease with which accusations can be laid against them. Malicious or not, such accusations have to be investigated The string of legal cases involving staff in children's homes, belatedly accused of abuse over decades, shows the need to listen to complaints. Yet the innocent can be impugned, and as Mrs Taylor has said, damage to a career is not easily remedied.

Should parents, pupils and for that matter professional colleagues who lay malicious accusations be disciplined? It would be hard to define an offence in legal terms, and the danger is that legitimate complaints would be stifled. Restraining an out-of-control pupil, Mrs Evans's problem, requires training - and testimony from colleagues about the cause and the method. Pupils need to know the train of events, affecting them as well as their teacher, that must flow from an accusation. Unlike Mrs Taylor and Mrs Evans, heads need confidence in equitable treatment from governors and school boards.

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