More than a one in five teaching staff (22%) have had a false allegation made against them by a pupil, according to research published today by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Nearly all of 685 union members surveyed (94%) backed a right to anonymity until charged to protect them from having their ‘careers ruined and lives blighted’. ‘I appreciate that allegations by children should be taken seriously, but equally so should the possibility that the accused is totally without blame,’ one primary teacher said.
The research drew on responses from support staff, teachers, lecturers, and heads in both state-funded and independent schools. Many staff attributed the increase in the number of false allegations to the fact that pupils ‘did not like being told off by school or college staff’. ‘After 22 years in teaching I feel very vulnerable now, as pupils twist things that are said and make serious comments – they do not see the serious manner of their allegation when in fact it is their behaviour we are challenging,’ a state secondary teacher in Worcestershire.
‘The increasing occurrence of allegations is one reason why I will be leaving the profession sooner than I would like to. Poor parental discipline is leading to children always wanting their way. Unable to discipline children without a comeback has meant this sort of incident will escalate and very good teachers will be driven out when they are most needed.’
A primary teacher in a state school in Kent
‘It is only right and proper that children are protected and their welfare and safety must always come first, but the balance needs to be right so that teachers, heads and support staff do not suffer unnecessarily when false allegations are made against them,’ said Dr Mary Bousted, ATL’s general secretary. ‘Schools and colleges need to recognise that young people sometimes make up allegations – they may be angry, under stress, suffering problems at home or have a host of other reasons – and take this into account when investigating them.’
Dr Bousted called on the police and local safeguarding boards to ‘work harder to resolve cases and to protect the rights of education staff’. ‘And we call on the Government to change the law to give all education staff the same rights to anonymity until charged – without this, innocent teaching assistants, school librarians and lab technicians as well as assistants, lecturers and managers in further education risk having their lives blighted unnecessarily,’ she added.
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award