Innocent head's 'assault' ordeal

5th January 2007 at 00:00
He seeks rule change after facing police investigation for restraining a violent bully

A ROUTINE lunchtime patrol led to a three-week ordeal for Ray Tarleton and his school. Now he wants the rules changed to help other falsely accused teachers.

Mr Tarleton, head of South Dartmoor community college, Devon, spotted a group of pupils pushing another outside a sports hall, and grabbed one by the arm.

Within hours he was at the centre of a police investigation after the 14-year-old boy's mother reported him for assault.

Mr Tarleton was eventually cleared thanks to statements from pupil witnesses, but believes the period of uncertainty could easily have left his school in chaos.

Not only was he in a vulnerable position, but his governors could not be told the truth in case they had to join a disciplinary panel.

"At a time when governors wish to lend support and need to be informed about what is happening to reassure the community, the lights are switched off and they are plunged into darkness," he said.

His governors were warned, in writing, about unspecified allegations against Mr Tarleton but told not to ask questions or to discuss the matter.

"Their imaginations were racing," he said. "What had the headteacher done? Sex with a sixth- form student? Fingers in the till?"

His proposed solution is a pairing system for school governing bodies so that an independent panel from a different school can hear such cases. This would leave governors in the school where the allegations were made free to manage the consequences.

Judith Bennett, National Governors Association chair, said she would be asking the association's board and members to consider the suggestion.

"It may be one way to deal with what is a very difficult situation," she said. But John Dunford, Association of School and College Lecturers' general secretary, said he thought such cases should be handled within the school.

New guidance on allegations against school staff was issued at the end of November 2005, just before Mr Tarleton's ordeal. It says staff should not be automatically suspended.

Ray Tarleton's story, page 28

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