Guidance on dealing with abuse allegations in schools aims to cut false accusations

…but has its proposals for speedier investigation opened up the possibilities of rushed inquiries

Children spend as much of their active time in the care of teachers as of their parents, so it is imperative that strong child protection measures are in place in schools. But there have been
concerns about the impact of false allegations of abuse against teachers, leading to the publication last week of new government guidance for England (news, 24 November).

Questions have been raised, however, about whether the guidelines, with their provision for legal recourse in the case of “malicious” accusations that prove unfounded, pay enough attention to the true motives of accusers. There is also a danger that an emphasis on speedy investigation could undermine the process.

Relatively few teachers end up in court on child abuse charges, despite the high profile given to such cases. Government figures show an estimated 0.4 per cent of teaching and non-teaching staff in England faced allegations of abuse in 2004, while only two of the 141 members of teaching union Nasuwt accused this year have so far ended up in court, with just one convicted.

The NSPCC has emphasised that agencies must not lose sight of why children might make false allegations – that it is often an attempt to draw attention to the fact that abuse is occurring elsewhere.

The guidelines build on the obligation, set out in section 47 of the Children Act 1989, for local authorities to carry out a child protection investigation when they are informed that a child could be suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. Councils will also now be required to appoint a designated officer to monitor such cases.

When the allegation is made against a children’s professional – whether it be a teacher, social worker or foster carer -the investigation will most likely be carried out by a third party such as a neighbouring council. In keeping with this, the guidelines state that even where allegations appear not to merit a section 47 investigation, they should be taken seriously and followed up by agencies external to the school, including social services.

A new time frame for investigating allegations against teachers is also outlined; the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are now expected to establish a review within four weeks of the allegation. If no charges are brought following the investigation, head teachers should decide within three days whether to take disciplinary action.

But detective chief inspector Ian Angus, of the Metropolitan Police’s child abuse investigation command, says the complexity of many of the cases, often involving potential historical abuse and the need to interview a large number of children, sometimes using video, means they cannot always be concluded quickly.

He has concerns that the four-week rule, although clearly worded in the guidelines as a date for a review to be established, could end up being used as a yardstick by parties keen to see investigations concluded quickly.

“A rushed investigation could also have an impact on the teacher,” he adds. “A pre-empted conclusion might well not be the conclusion that the teacher was hoping for.”

The new guidelines are the end product of a campaign by teachers’ unions for greater protection for their members, and have been widely welcomed in the profession.

Chris Keates, general secretary of Nasuwt, says previous guidelines did not go far enough in balancing the rights of the adult and the child.

The devastating effects that false allegations can have on professionals’ careers, mental health and standing within communities have not been fully appreciated, she argues.

But she hopes the new guidelines will end the situation where, she claims, children have been encouraged to come forward with allegations, regardless of any possible consequences for staff.

  • Dealing With Allegations of Abuse Against Teachers And Other Education Staff at

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