Minister back-pedals on teacher anonymity pledge

24th September 2010 at 01:00
Unions fear second thoughts over agreement to protect staff facing pupil accusations

The Government appears to be rowing back from its plans to give anonymity to teachers accused of misconduct by pupils.

The promise of anonymity was a central plank of both Conservative education policy before the election and the Coalition agreement that brought the Tories and Liberal Democrats together. But ministers now seem to be stepping away from the commitment.

Answering a parliamentary question on the status of the policy, schools minister Tim Loughton said details were "still under consideration".

"I want to ensure teachers are protected against false allegations, but I also need to consider the impact on other school staff and on those working in the wider children's workforce," he said.

Teaching unions the NUT and ATL have said that they had expected to be consulted on the anonymity policy by now, but have so far heard nothing.

The Labour government had considered moving towards anonymity, but it is understood it was told by lawyers and the Ministry of Justice that the measure would be too complex.

As a result, current guidance already says "every effort" should be made to maintain confidentiality and guard against unwanted publicity while an allegation is being investigated or considered.

A Department for Education spokesman said it was looking at a "range of options" to strengthen these arrangements.

Heads' and teachers' leaders are now urging the Coalition to stick to its original commitment that said it would "give anonymity to teachers accused by pupils and take other measures to protect against false accusations".

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said she was worried about the development.

"Clearly, ministers have moved away from the unequivocal commitment they were giving before the election that they would introduce anonymity for teachers," she said.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We must have anonymity, otherwise it does an injustice to those people who are accused unfairly.

"False allegations prevent objectivity and a fair hearing and seriously undermines discipline in schools."

And Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, agreed. "We would be surprised and greatly disappointed if plans to give anonymity are scaled back," he said.

Schools and local authorities have to complete investigations into allegations against teachers within a month, apart from in exceptional circumstances, in which case they have a year.

Education solicitor Dai Durbridge, from Browne Jacobson, said: "The Government should consider the view that anonymity is not a good idea - it stops others coming forward.

"It's impossible to keep allegations quiet if they are taken seriously, and if they are kept quiet, people make assumptions and this serves no purpose."

Mr Loughton said more details of the new Government's plans would be announced "in due course".

"All allegations need to be taken seriously, regardless of the alleged offence, whether it takes place in the school they are employed in, at another school or off the school premises," he said.

"While it is an imperative that we continue to safeguard children, it is also the case that some allegations are false and maliciously intended."

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