What if the worst happens?

Every male teacher's worst nightmare

* It's natural to feel in a panic and to find taking everything in difficult, so contact your union. Try to keep notes of what is said and write down what you need to ask.

* You will need a local solicitor when you are interviewed by the police. The ATL has a panel of solicitors it has selected to help deal with just these problems. It will also provide a local ATL caseworker.

* Sometimes the police expect you to stop everything to suit their convenience. Other forces are more considerate. If the police are intransigent and there is no time to arrange for one of the panel solicitors, you should ask for the duty solicitor.

* The ATL believes accused teachers should not face automatic suspension, although heads are sometimes placed under huge pressure to suspend.

* If you are suspended, you will probably be told not to contact your colleagues, the very people you would usually rely on when something goes wrong, so at worst you are horribly alone.

* The school and LEA ought to ensure that someone is designated as your point of contact. If the school fails to do this, your union will forcefully remind it.

* Some LEA personnel departments are over-stretched to breaking point. Others are a valuable source of support during and after the situation.

* The time taken to sort cases out has varied widely across the UK. In England the DfES is attempting to improve consistency and cut time in limbo by funding the appointment of regional co-ordinators.

* In Wales the National Assembly has been made aware of the problems, and assembly minister Jane Davidson has promised action. But unions remain concerned.

* It's a topic under debate in Northern Ireland too.

* If an allegation proves to be mistaken, mischievous or malicious, it is unlikely to get as far as the courts. If it does, there can be delays of up to a year or more before a final decision to prosecute is made.

* At present teachers have almost no right of redress. The ATL wants this situation to change as a matter of natural justice. At the very least the pupil(s) should be subject to a disciplinary sanction, up to permanent exclusion, and the ATL expects the teacher's view to be taken into consideration. The association will look at all possible legal sanctions up to and including proceedings for defamation.

* Expect the possibility of a governors' hearing before your return to school. The ATL will supply an adviser to help you.

It will never happen to...

Sadly, for those who regret the scarcity of men in teaching generally and primary teaching in particular, men are twice as likely to be accused as women. Allegations of physical abuse outnumber those of a sexual nature by five to one.

Taking precautions

Many allegations concern one-to-one situations. There are five rules: Notification

Ensure a colleague or the pupil's parentcarer knows in advance.

Location

Stay in sight of other people, avoiding remote parts of the school.

Environment

Arrange desk and chairs so that physical contact is avoided.

Contact

Avoid physical contact. Give a distressed child time and space to calm down - that arm round the shoulder could be misconstrued.

Report

As if busy teachers did not have enough to do, you are in a much better position if you have already reported any untoward incident to a colleague. If in doubt, report it.

Managing a suspension

Who can suspend a member of staff?

The headteacher.

Does the head have to suspend?

Heads do not have to suspend automatically. They should take advice from the designated contact in the LEA and their union.

What should the head tell governors?

Heads must keep the nominated governor with responsibility for child protection issues informed. Bear in mind that, at a later stage, governors may need to be involved in a disciplinary hearing and appeal.

If the teacher is suspended, what should the head say to children and parents?

Heads should be cautious and take advice. They should discuss the situation with the nominated governor and union contact. A balance must be struck between the need for confidentiality and for making an accurate statement about the position.

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