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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Call for redress for innocent teachers
By BBC News Online's Gary Eason at the NASUWT conference in Jersey.
Teachers say the state should compensate colleagues who are victims of malicious allegations by children.
Union leader Nigel de Gruchy said there was no point seeking financial redress from the children or their mostly "dysfunctional" families, there should be a system similar to the criminal injuries compensation scheme.
At the annual conference of his union, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), delegates were not content with government moves in England to speed up the investigation of false claims, which are likely to be followed by similar moves in Wales.
The average length of suspension is said to be about nine months, during which time teachers are often not told the details of what is alleged against them - "nine months of hell" as one delegate put it.
A primary head teacher, John Tobutt, said he had had to face two serious allegations from the same pupil - who had been able to walk away "scot free".
He said the motion sent a clear message to society that "we as a profession are no longer prepared to put up with this".
"Lying begins at two"
Dave Battye said research had shown that children began to lie at about the age of two - "when they realise that adults don't know everything".
"The failure to accept this is at the root of the problems we face."
The union is worried at the way the Children Act is being interpreted by child protection agencies - that children must be believed.
"That's coming from the wrong standpoint," said Jules Donaldson. "Children must be listened to, allegations must be investigated, but children must not automatically be believed," he said.
The conference heard that over the past 10 years the union had acted for its members in 1,289 cases of alleged physical and/or sexual abuse of pupils which their head teachers had regarded as serious enough to call in the police.
There was a rising trend: 42 cases 10 years ago, 116 five years ago and 159 last year.
No further action was taken by the police in 925 of those (72%) and another 73 (5.7%) were dismissed by the courts. Only in 52 (4%) were people convicted of having done anything wrong.
Mr Donaldson said there was also an impact on other pupils. He estimated the number of "pupil days" lost across the country because of their teachers being sent home while allegations were investigated was about five million a year.
"If we were causing that sort of problem people would do something about it. There would be a public outcry," he said.
The resolution also called for parents to be made accountable for their children's behaviour.
"If a child wrecks a phone box the parents can be held responsible and made to pay for the damage. If a lying child wrecks someone's life there is no redress," said Pat Lerew.
Teachers also want anonymity for the accused - something the Tory leader, William Hague, has argued for.
The government says it regards this as unworkable because people locally would know who was involved.
But Nigel de Gruchy told journalists that that argument was not used in alleged rape cases.
Nor had it applied to the student, known only as "P", who had taken his union to court - unsuccessfully - over his teachers' refusal to teach him because of his allegedly disruptive behaviour.
Mr de Gruchy revealed that although the union had won the case in the High Court last week, it had not asked for the student to be ordered to pay its costs, estimated at £20,000.
Another conference, the NUT's, heard on Sunday from the primary school head teacher Marjorie Evans, who said she was taking legal action against her local education authority for the 19-month "nightmare" she suffered before being cleared finally of the allegations against her and reinstated.
Although unions have threatened to bring court action against families none has done so and Mr de Gruchy said he felt a state compensation scheme was the only sensible option.
"Any other private suing facility is just a nonsense in the case of children and most of these families: Most of them are dysfunctional families," he said.
The winners were lawyers with their "fat fees" - and the rise in the number of cases brought against teachers was being fuelled by the growth of "no win no fee" legal firms in the UK.
A compensation scheme might help teachers, but it would not deter allegations and might even make matters worse, he said.
What was needed was something to force parents to face up to their responsibilities.
The government announced recently that it was proposing to extend the parenting orders that courts can make, to children or their parents who are abusive or violent in schools.
Mr de Gruchy suggested they might also be used against those involved in making malicious allegations against teachers.
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