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Union targets abuse smears

Should accused teachers now get the right to anonymity in order to protect them from malicious allegations? Clare Dean reports

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 even reach court.

Around 1,000 members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers have faced a police investigation since 1991, the union's records reveal. There were just 52 convictions.

The union has campaigned long and hard over false abuse allegations, warning of the devastating effect they have on the lives of the accused.

It claims that all too frequently staff feel they are being considered guilty until proven innocent.

At its Easter conference in Jersey, the union will urge anonymity for those 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.

It believes that the balance has tipped too far in favour of the accusers.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: "No one should be suspended on the evidence of one person, particularly i that person is a child.

"There must be corroborating evidence before a teacher is suspended. And once that teacher has been suspended, the case must be dealt with quickly."

Union statistics show that the number of allegations annually peaked at 182 in 1999. Just one resulted in a conviction and in 102 there was no further action after investigation.

Last year there were 159 allegations. Only one went to court. There was no conviction.

The Conservatives have promised anonymity for accused teachers until allegations are proved. But ministers say that the change would be meaningless because local communities invariably know the identity of accused teachers anyway.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said its Easter conference would be a "timely and appropriate occasion for David Blunkett to announce a change in the guidelines to ensure that teachers never again have to go through the ordeal suffered by Marjorie Evans (the Welsh head who has finally cleared her name after being accused of assaulting a pupil).

"He should commit the Government to ensuring that, where allegations are made of physical abuse, there should be no immediate suspension," said Mr McAvoy.

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