Pupil abuse allegations: anonymity plea snubbed

6th November 2009 at 00:00

The government has rejected a call from a cross-party panel of MPs to give teachers anonymity when facing an allegation of abuse from a pupil.

The Commons children, schools and families select committee argued that teachers should be named only in the event of a conviction.

According to the committee, the vast majority of accusations made against school staff are unfounded, and without statutory anonymity false details can be circulated among children and parents.

Exposing a teacher who is being investigated following an allegation will "invariably tarnish the reputation" of the member of staff concerned, the committee said.

It added that without anonymity, the entire principle of "innocent until proven guilty" is undermined.

But the Department for Children, Schools and Families rejected the call to give statutory anonymity to teachers during criminal proceedings for all offences as it went against the concept of open justice.

"The Government does not consider that teachers or other school staff should be treated any differently from other defendants," it said.

"Furthermore, if a defendant is subsequently acquitted, that fact is in the public domain."

Teaching unions and support groups said that teachers are at far greater risk than those in other professions of being subjected to false and malicious allegations.

Teacher support group Redress, which represents teachers in tribunals and disciplinary cases, said that "well over 90 per cent of allegations" are found to be unproven.

Jenni Watson, Redress national secretary, said the entire system is "loaded" against teachers when it comes to dealing with allegations, but added that the Government was moving in the right direction.

"There is no way a teacher can come out of an allegation and not be damaged," Ms Watson said.

"Everything is so geared against you. You can be as pure as the driven snow but still come out damaged."

But she added: "You don't expect the Government to say yes to everything, but to get some yeses back is good. The fact that the Government recognises the need for representation once an allegation is made against a teacher is heart warming," Ms Watson said.

Last week, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers released results from a survey of more than 1,000 of its members reporting that more than a quarter of teachers have faced a false accusation.

Furthermore, half of all respondents said that they, or a colleague, had had an accusation made against them by a pupil or a member of a pupil's family.

Dr Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said the survey showed there was an imbalance that needed to be redressed so that staff were no longer "presumed guilty until proven innocent".

She added: "We all accept that the protection of children is paramount, but that should not be at the expense of natural justice - school staff have rights, too."

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