Helpline

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Q: A parent has complained about the conduct of a teacher, arising from an incident which led to his son's permanent exclusion. How should we, as governors, deal with this?

A: You should keep the two matters entirely separate.

In the case of the exclusion, the normal procedure of a hearing and, if need be, an appeal should be followed. The chair of the meeting should be firm in confining the discussion to the pupil's conduct and the school's response to it. The business of the meeting is to determine whether the pupil's behaviour merited exclusion, whatever the teacher did.

The complaint against the teacher is, in the first instance at least, a matter for the head, not the governors. The head should see that there is a proper investigation and should decide what action, if any, is appropriate in the light of the outcome. Only if the head decides to refer the matter to the governors' disciplinary committee should governors become involved in what is a management issue.

Q: A teacher has been suspended on full pay for two months, following an allegation of assault on a pupil, which was dismissed at the magistrates court. It is said that an internal investigation is taking place. Should this not have happened in the first place? Who is paying for the extra supply cover?

A. Cases like this are almost always painful and difficult. In the case of alleged assault on a pupil, the law requires that the incident must be reported to the Child Protection Service, which has the duty to investigate and to take whatever action it deems appropriate.

All that the school, usually the head, has to do in this situation is to determine whether there is a prima facie case for reporting the incident. This does not mean conducting an investigation, but merely ascertaining whether the alleged incident could have taken place. For example, if the head was satisfied that the teacher could not possibly have been present at the scene, there is nothing to investigate. The head should not conduct a more detailed investigation at this stage as this may prejudice the Crown Prosecution Service inquiry.

It is often decided that the teacher should be suspended on full pay while an investigation is conducted, a measure which implies neither guilt nor innocence. The cost of supply cover will normally be borne by the school.

Unfortunately, neither a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute nor an acquittal in court necessarily concludes the matter. The head may feel that, while there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction, there were nonetheless features of the incident which indicated that the teacher had acted inappropriately and contrary to the school's own rules and procedures.

An internal investigation, quite apart from the police inquiry, may therefore be justified. This investigation must be separate from and subsequent to the police inquiry, although the police may sometimes allow access to statements which they have taken.

Furthermore, in internal disciplinary procedures, the burden of proof is not as stringent as it is in a court. A disciplinary committee of a governing body, whether hearing the case or an appeal against a decision by the head, needs to be satisfied that there are sufficient grounds for believing that misconduct took place. It does not have to be a criminal offence and it does not need to be established beyond all reasonable doubt.

Thus it is possible for a teacher acquitted of a criminal offence to be subject to disciplinary action, including dismissal, for professional misconduct.

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