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Union targets abuse smears

Should teachers have a right to anonymity to protect them from malicious accusers? Clare Dean and David Henderson report.

Allegations of physical or sexual abuse of children by teachers have more than trebled over the past decade, yet only a handful each year result in a conviction and most never reach court.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers - preparing for its Easter conference in Jersey - has revealed that around 1,000 members have faced a police investigation since 1991 but only 52 have been convicted of an offence.

The union, including its Scottish section, has campaigned long and hard over false abuse allegations, warning of the devastating effect they have on the accused. It claims that all too frequently staff feel they are considered guilty until proven innocent.

Tino Ferri, its Scottish spokesman, said that a survey north of the border is about to highlight increasing difficulties in coping with false allegations of abuse and violent incidents.

He believes nothing less than civil action against parents where allegations are proven unfounded will stem the tide of complaints.

"If there is no anonymity for teachers and the press get hold of a story, once the allegations have been found to be totally without credence, retribution must be exacted from the parents and the only way is a civil action against them. Something has to be done to protect teachers and make parents think twice about making allegations," he said.

Mr Ferri rejected the view that this would tip the balance against the interests of the child and parent. "It's a measure of justice," he replied.

The national union takes a marginally less strident view and is to press for anonymity for the accused until the allegations are found to be correct. It says teachers should be able to continue working as normally as possible and be compensated for unfounded claims. Stories in the media often portray the teacher as guilty, in some cases before an investigation has taken place.

Nigel de Gruchy, the NAS's general secretary, said: "No one should be suspended on the evidence of one person, particularly if that person is a child. There must be corresponding evidence before a teacher is suspended. And once a teacher is suspended, the case must be dealt with quickly."

Mr Ferri also blamed the Scottish Executive's social inclusion policies for rising violence against teachers. He said that headteachers found it almost impossible to exclude disruptive pupils and many were reluctant to bring in the police where teachers had been assaulted.

* 'Spitting, shouting and trampling on desks'

DAVID Pearson had no doubt that his 26 years of classroom experience would be ample preparation for thetask when he was sent in to a failing Nottingham primary.

Just four weeks into the job he was so shocked by what he saw as a total breakdown in pupil behaviour that he asked to be moved.

During his month at Southwark junior, Mr Pearson claims that children urinated on the stairs, visited sex websites during infromation technology lessons and hurled missiles at teachers in class.

The 376-pupil school was placed on special measures in 1999 after inspectors concluded it was failing to provide an acceptable standard of education. Weaknesses included deteriorating pupil behaviour, low attainment and poor teaching.

Inspectors have observed significant improvements but Mr Pearson, now working as a supply teacher, said: "In all my years teaching, including time in an extremely challenging school in London, I have never experienced anything like this.

"The kids were completely out of control, spitting, shouting and trampling on desks."


* Sarah Taylor, 13, was expelled in 1996 from the Ridings in Halifax, West Yorkshire, after she was accused of pushing a teacher and being violent towards another pupil. The decision was overturned on appeal. The school's 31 members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers voted to walk out if she was allowed back into class. Her parents rejected a compromise where she would be taught in isolation and she was moved to another school.

* Richard Wilding, 13, was excluded from Glaisdale comprehensive, Bilborough, Nottinghamshire, in 1996, when teachers found he was disobedient and disrupting others' education (he had threatened one pupilwith a chair). He was suspended four times but kept returning and had to be removed by police. The school's 18 teachers refused to teach him. Head David Higgins expelled him but an appeal panel ruled he should be reinstated. A strike was averted after his parents agreed for him to be taught at a unit near school and at home at a cost of pound;11,700 a year.

* Matthew Wilson, 10, was suspended from Manton junior in Nottinghamshire in 1996 but returned to school wielding a baseball bat. Head Bill Skelly had twice expelled him after he attacked other pupils and was abusive to staff, but governors reversed the decisions. Staff voted to strike unless the boy was removed but relented after one-to-one teaching was arranged. Parents of 100 pupils temporarily boycotted the school in protest at the pound;14,000-a-year cost of this arrangement.

* Graham Cram, 12, was expelled from Hebbern comprehensive, South Tyneside, in 1995 after attacking his geography teacher but reinstated on appeal. Teachers refused to let him in classes or mix with other children but allowed him to be taught separately.

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