Tory call for abuse charge anonymity

16th June 2000 at 01:00
Hague's promise to protect falsely accused teachers follows pledge to kick out 'thug' pupils. Nicolas Barnard reports

TORY leader William Hague is proposing new protections for teachers accused of abuse, in an attempt to put Labour on the spot and woo the profession.

His party will propose an amendment to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill that would give teachers the right to anonymity up to the point when police bring charges.

The move follows a series of well-publicised cases where teachers were wrongly accused by pupils and endured months of anxiety before being cleared.

Last year, 114 school workers were convicted, cautioned, sacked or resigned under suspicion following allegations, according to official data. But union figures suggest hundreds of allegations are made each year, with only a tiny minority reaching court.

The law would be widely popular with teachers. It was revealed to union leaders at a private meeting with Mr Hague this week.

It is part of a Tory campaign to score points by picking shamelessly populist issues on which Labour is vulnerable.

In what will be viewed by many as a further lurch to the Right, voters can expect campaigns on asylum-seekers and the euro to be joined by a populist line on education. Mr Hague's rabble-rousing call to kick "thugs" out of classrooms by scrapping the drive to cut exclusions will be followed by a series of announcements building to a major speech.

And Mr Hague will make the running, not education spokeswoman Theresa May. Mrs May has been criticised over her low public profile and is now concentrating on the "free schools" initiative - which she describes n this week's TES (page 17).

One Tory central office official told The TES: "William will be doing most of the announcements. If he does it, it's the lead in all the news bulletins."

The party has also abandoned think-tanks to provide its ideas, in favour of "practitioners" - heads, councillors and governors whom party leaders are reluctant to identify. Mr Hague and his close advisors have no backgrounds in education and no working parties feeding their policy-making.

Senior education advisers include Sir Robert Balchin, the former chairman of the Grant-maintained Schools Foundation. He finds himself back in favour and is putting flesh on the free schools plan, which would make all schools self-governing, receiving cash from central government.

The new anonymity clause will be proposed by education spokeswoman Baroness Blatch in the House of Lords.

The Sexual Offences Bill lowers the age of gay consent to 16 and creates a new offence of sexual relations between teachers and young people aged 16 to 18 over whom they hold a position of trust. It has cleared the Commons.

Ministers have in the past rebuffed calls by teachers for the right to anonymity but Education Secretary David Blunkett is thought to be softening on the issue.

Union leaders were surprised at the invitation to meet Mr Hague last week - Mrs May was also present as was senior Hague aide Lord (Sebastian) Coe.

One called it "useful" but, while they support the end of exclusion targets, they have major misgivings on the free schools policy, which would effectively spell the end of local education authorities.

Platform, 17

Leader, 18

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