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Tribunal to offer hope for wrongly accused teachers

BLACKLISTED teachers accused of abusing children will soon have a right of redress.

A tribunal system is being introduced this summer, to allow teachers and other staff to challenge decisions to put them on the register of people considered unfit to work with children. Currently, the only redress for teachers who feel they have been falsely accused is through the courts.

An unnamed primary teacher this month went to the High Court to get a review of the Department of Health's decision to put him on its "consultancy index". He was listed despite a two-year investigation by the Department for Education which was unable to substantiate the allegations.

The Protection of Children Act, passed last year, puts the consultancy index and the DFEE's List 99 on a statutory basis for the first time. It lays down the criteria for banning people from working with children, and provides for appeals through a new tribunal.

Debra Shipley, the MP behind the Act, now wants to see it extended to volunteers who come into contact with children, inluding governors, scout leaders, and outdoor adventure centres.

Under the Act, voluntary organisations may check if people are on the list, but do not have to. Similarly with governors, the DFEE strongly recommends they be checked against List 99, but it is not a legal requirement.

Ms Shipley, Labour MP for Stourbridge, is concerned that the Government's New Year proposal to provide an outdoor activity for every school-leaver will leave teenagers vulnerable to abuse from voluntary workers.

"The summer camps for teenagers are an excellent opportunity for young people, and I welcome the initiative in principle," she said. "But from my knowledge, from putting the Act through Parliament, I would never send a child on a holiday with unvetted adults."

Officials are hopeful that the Act will be fully implemented late this summer, in advance of the Human Rights Bill. It means that in future, names on one list will automatically be included on the other. Eventually, the two lists will be drawn together.

Karen Thornton

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