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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Pushy parents pick on teachers

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Online at the ATL conference in Blackpool

Parents are attempting to make schools stop individual teachers from teaching or having any contact with their children.

This has even extended to parents demanding that teachers do not ever speak to their children, even to call the register when covering for an absent colleague.

This claim about aggressive parent power was made by a Dorset teacher at the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, as the union debated the growing problem of malicious allegations against staff.

Andy Speake said there were parents who were attempting to pick and choose who taught their children, motivated either by a belief that they could get a "better" teacher or because of "personality clashes" which made a teacher unacceptable.

Teachers want redress for malicious allegations made against them
In the case of parents who demand that an individual teacher should not be in contact with their child - the school involved agreed to move a pupil so as not to be in the class of a particular teacher, but he said it refused to agree that the teacher would never speak to the child in any circumstances.

Such attempts to block teachers were based on disagreements or dislikes of members of staff, rather than any particular claims against them, he suggested.

Such an attitude from parents would have been "unimaginable a generation ago", said Mr Speake.

The union also heard calls for teachers to be better protected from malicious allegations from pupils, with speakers describing how lives could be ruined by the stress of false accusations.

Climate of fear

And Mr Speake described the climate of distrust that could be created. In his own school, he says that he never interviews a pupil in his office without the door being fully open.

There were also arrangements so that teachers were not left alone with pupils in a way that might leave them vulnerable to accusations.

And he said that there were pupils who used the threat of making up an allegation against teachers as a way of intimidating staff.

The conference made another appeal for anonymity for staff accused of attacks on pupils, until the charges were proved.

And it called for legal redress - both to compensate the victims of false claims and to provide some sanction against pupils or families who had deliberately set out to damage a teacher with a malicious allegation.

Career ruined

Mr Speake highlighted a case, not at his current school, where a teacher had been cleared of assaulting a pupil.

Even though he was proved to be innocent, and even though there had been widespread scepticism among staff about the allegation, the accused teacher never returned to the school.

Suspended from his post during the 10 months before he was cleared, the teacher's health was badly affected by the publicity surrounding the case, and he was hospitalised and eventually retired on grounds of ill-health.

Mr Speake emphasised the threat this posed to teachers, where decades of an unblemished career could be ruined by a single groundless claim - even where the allegations appeared to have little substance.

"The authorities can be too quick to take the word of a student - they should weigh up the balance of probabilities."

There were claims made by pupils known to be deliberately disruptive and with long records of misbehaviour, he said, who knew they could have a teacher suspended by making allegations.

He also suggested that if teachers faced an automatic suspension when they were accused of an assault, it might be fairer if the accuser also had to be taught elsewhere.

Mr Speake also thought that the fear of becoming a victim of a malicious allegation could lead to more teachers refusing to teach pupils who have previously made such false claims.

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