Page last updated at 23:22 GMT, Saturday, 13 September 2008 00:22 UK

Huge rise in teacher suspensions

Hand writing
Suspensions may be the result of allegations about child mistreatment

There has been an 86% increase in the number of teachers suspended on full pay in the UK, figures seen by the BBC suggest.

The Donal McIntyre programme on BBC Radio 5 Live obtained details from Freedom of Information requests to all 204 local authorities in the UK.

Among the 40% of councils responding, the number of suspensions had risen from 168 in 2003-04 to 314 in 2007-08.

Teachers' unions say there has been a rise in false allegations.

The councils responding said almost £14.5m was paid out in salaries for those suspended during the same period of time.

But the total cost to taxpayers will be higher when other local authorities are taken into consideration.

'Neutral act'

The most common reason for suspending a teacher was because of child protection issues, which includes allegations of verbal abuse, unreasonable force against a pupil, indecent assault, downloading pictures of child sex abuse.

Other reasons were misuse of drugs or alcohol and gross misconduct. The length of suspensions ranged from about a week to, in one case in Leicester, more than four years.

Teaching unions have been expressing concern for some time about growing numbers of false allegations made against teachers by pupils or their parents.

Some allegations have been coupled with compensation claims made against local authorities.

"There's a worrying trend of parents not going to the head teacher, but instead heading straight to the police," says Sharon Liburd, a solicitor for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

"Parents automatically believe the child and often the facts are embellished. They go to the police to create the maximum amount of hurt to the school."

Employers say suspending a teacher is a "neutral" act and does not imply any guilt.

But Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he believed suspending a teacher was more extreme than that.

"It is not a neutral act and doesn't feel like a neutral act," he said.

"Especially when a teacher is suspended as a result of false or malicious allegations. Something like that can badly affect a teacher's career and their whole life."

The numbers of teachers suspended appeared to vary considerably from one local authority to another.

In Essex, 80 teachers have been suspended during the past five years. Camden in north London says its records show no teachers have been suspended.

The Freedom of Information research did not reveal how many allegations against teachers were upheld.

There are 537,544 teachers in the UK, so with only 314 reported to 5 Live as suspended, it is clearly only a very small proportion of the total number.

The Donal MacIntyre show, Sunday at 19:00 BST on BBC Radio 5 Live or download the programme podcast from the Radio 5 Live website.

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