College lecturers could get the legal right to anonymity if falsely accused of a misdemeanour by a student, the Department for Education has said, following campaigns by unions and politicians.
Officials have confirmed that while school-based teachers will be the first to benefit from the new right to anonymity, which is being introduced as part of the Education Bill currently working its way through Parliament, it will be extended to colleges if it proves successful.
As part of the change in regulations, newspapers would be banned from identifying accused teachers until they are charged with an offence by police.
The Government's confirmation that it will consider extending the regulation came after education select committee chairman Graham Stuart tabled an amendment to the bill to include FE lecturers alongside teachers.
Mr Stuart told FE Focus: "My amendment further highlights the artificial divide that still exists between schools and colleges.
"Once they are made public, even false allegations can end a career. FE lecturers should be entitled to the same safeguards as teachers in schools. I see no reason why some educators should be given this protection, while those teaching the same students in a college would not."
As a result of this pressure, the DfE has promised to "continue to discuss" the policy with representatives of lecturers and teaching assistants.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of education union the ATL, said: "We are very supportive of the idea that . college staff will be included in the anonymity proposals.
"It's important that everybody in education has this right if allegations are made against them."
However, there remains widespread frustration in the FE sector that lecturers were not included in the first draft of the bill's provisions.
Chris Walden, public affairs director at the Association of Colleges, said: "We've argued from the outset that failing to include the 140,000 teachers and lecturers in FE and sixth-form colleges, who teach 74,000 14 and 15-year-olds and 831,000 16 to 18-year-olds, is both unfair and discriminatory.
"We are extremely disappointed that the Government restricted this new right to those teaching in schools as the issue of false accusations is just as relevant in colleges - as is the need to avoid rumours and malicious gossip, which can ruin careers and people's lives."
WHAT THE PAPERS SAY
LAW WILL `STIFLE FREEDOM OF SPEECH'
The Newspaper Society, which represents local media, argues that the anonymity proposals will stifle freedom of speech. In evidence to MPs, the society said schools and local authorities would "exploit" the legislation to "protect their own interest" and maintain secrecy.
The society has also warned that anonymity will make enquiries into teacher misconduct more difficult because it could stop the exchange and sharing of any information, and this could "prevent public exoneration of the teacher".
The society's evidence to Parliament said: "This sets a worrying precedent by its introduction of a new concept of the `protected professional', automatically and indefinitely banning the identification of a person by reference to their occupation and employment as the alleged perpetrator of a criminal offence against someone in their care by the victim or others in their care."