More fall prey to abuse accusations

24th February 1995 at 00:00
Teachers are increasingly becoming prey to accusations of abuse by children, according to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

The union's evidence to the National Commission of Inquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse says that teachers are being dismissed after little or no evidence and the child's original evidence is often unchallenged in a disciplinary hearing.

Peter Smith, ATL's general secretary, said: "The Children Act was a great step forward in safeguarding children's welfare. Yet these legislative changes may have empowered the child, but they have also put at risk the rights of teachers both as professionals and as citizens."

Gillian Sage, the union's solicitor and author of the report, said that since the Children Act 1989, children are very mindful of their rights and have greater confidence in challenging teachers. Parents are also less supportive of teachers, she said.

There are no hard and fast figures on the number of allegations that lead to teachers being dismissed. But Ms Sage believes that the teacher unions receive between 15 to 20 calls a week from members who say they have been falsely accused.

She said: "Teachers are now very cautious and uncertain about the amount of force they can use when, say, they are called in to break up a playground fight."

The report says: "Most of the accusations made against teachers are of physical intervention of some sort, for example, intervening in fights, stopping children running out of classrooms or tapping children on shoulders or physically turning their heads."

Before the Children Act 1989, parents relied upon criminal law if they felt a teacher had used undue force. But since the Act the concept of abuse has been introduced, which the report says traps teachers in "a halfway house between criminal and civil law".

Teacher accused of abuse are often suspended. In one case a teacher was suspended for two years without any case being proved against him; and the governing body may not take him back, said Ms Sage. "Children have the Children's Charter and Parents have the Parent's Charter, but their is no charter to safeguard the profession," she said.

The profession is on the front line of abuse issues, the report says. Teachers are often the first to detect and report abuse of their pupils and they are also victims themselves. They are sworn at, spat at, shouted at, hit, kicked and tripped according to the report. They can also find property damaged, and are at risk from violent parents.

"The current response to a child's allegation is to take the allegation seriously and to act swiftly to protect the child. The teacher may be suspended as a precautionary action. Where a child abuses a teacher, the matter may not be taken so seriously. The teacher cannot ask to be protected from further abuse and there are no protective legal sanctions or procedures to prevent abusive behaviour."

ChildLine, the children's phone-in charity, said very few callers name their sexual abuser as a teacher. A spokeswoman said: "Out of 10,000 calls, only 460 involved teachers. Most abuse takes place in the family environment and often it is a teacher who a child can trust and confide in."

The National Commission of Inquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse was set up last year by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It is chaired by Lord Williams of Mostyn.

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