Government called on to ‘back’ teachers

By Liz Stephens

Teachers facing accusations of misconduct should always be presumed innocent until proven guilty, an influential committee of MPs said today.

A new report by the children, schools and families committee said too many teachers had their careers ruined by being suspended unnecessarily.

It is “unsatisfactory” that no data was collected on how many teachers went on to be charged with any offence after being suspended, the committee said.

Teaching unions estimate just 5 per cent of allegations result in a charge of misconduct or a conviction.

The committee criticised head teachers for referring too many incidents to local authorities to investigate, leading to lengthy inquiries which could have been dealt with more quickly in school.

Schools should themselves investigate whether suspensions were justified and key members of staff should be trained in how to investigate allegations against colleagues, and ensure there is access to support, MPs said.

The report criticised the government for allowing schools to prevent suspended teachers from contacting colleagues to build a defence, calling this “inhumane and unjust”.

The MPs asked the government to re-examine whether anonymity for accused teachers would be justified.

The committee chairman, Barry Sheerman MP, said: “There is a fine balance to be struck between safeguarding the rights of children and the rights of those who work with children.

“Allegations proven to be true must be punished. But the vast majority of complaints made against school staff have little or no foundation.”

Children’s minister Delyth Morgan said: “False or misleading accusations against teachers or other staff are completely unacceptable.

But she added: “Children making false allegations often have complex needs, and in some cases may be trying to draw attention to abuse or other issues elsewhere in their life rather than being deliberately malicious.”

The NSPCC told the committee that in 2007-08, Childline received 68,758 calls about abuse and bullying, 1,491 of those children identified a teacher as the perpetrator of the abuse.

Ms Morgan said 64 per cent of allegations were currently resolved within one month, but the government agreed with the committee that this figure should increase.