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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 12:18 GMT
Teachers: Are they too vulnerable to false accusations?

It has taken 18 months for Welsh head teacher Marjorie Evans finally to be cleared of all the allegations of mistreating pupils at her primary school.

She was convicted by magistrates, then cleared on appeal - then she faced fresh claims. Governors of the school have now decided there is "no credible evidence" of wrongdoing.

But teachers' unions say many teachers routinely have their lives turned upside down by similar allegations - almost all of which are subsequently proved to be unfounded.

Some say laws designed to protect children may have swung the balance too far.

Are people who work with children too vulnerable to false accusations? Has child protection legislation gone too far?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

I would like to see a teacher initiate the first collective civil case to evict a child from a class on the grounds that this person is denying the others the right to a "fair and decent education". I am absolutely certain that the education of the innocent children can be protected under the European Law on Human Rights. Please, please, please let us see the teaching profession get some redress through this legal right.
Dr J Barnard, UK

The right of a group of children to learn is more important than the right of one individual child to privacy

Jim, England
Placing cameras in classrooms is the only viable solution that I can see. For one thing, they could be used to speed up cases like that of Ms Evans - if a camera had been placed in her classroom, her case would have been sorted out within a month or two. Classroom cameras could also be used to prove to parents that their darling children do misbehave occasionally. Once this is done, thdey can then be disciplined properly. The right of a group of children to learn is more important than the right of one individual child to privacy, if that privacy has the potential to disrupt the education of the whole group.
Jim, England

My mother was a teacher from the 1950's to the 1980's. During the mid 1970's she saw that her authority as a teacher was being diminished. When she was assaulted by a pupil in the school, the child was considered only "emotionally unstable" - not the thug he really was - and nothing was done! Yet if my mother had taken steps to restrain him, she would have been accused of assault. We now have a situation where if a child chooses to misbehave in class he can do so - after all no teacher is allowed to touch him nowadays, let alone give him the thick ear he deserves.
Hazel, UK

I attended a primary school on a council estate and there was one teacher who always seemed to get the worst behaved children in her class. She never raised her voice, she never threatened. She was polite and considerate, and she expected her class to treat her - and each other - in the same way. They left her class at the end of the year like lambs. She was a wonderful teacher who proved that you don't need to use violence to gain respect and attention.
Julie, UK

As a foreign student first in Britain and second France and coming from one of the least developed countries, I think your child protection laws have gone too far! The teacher no longer seems to have any control over pupils. Children generally tell lies to attract attention. In Africa the teacher who is entrusted with the education and discipline of children has the final say not the child and needless to say of course African children are better behaved in spite of the poverty.
Rose Nassali-Lukwago, Paris

Children are aware that teachers have very little powers and they use this to their advantage

Lucy Lord, England
I was a teacher for five years before I left to pursue another career. In my time as a teacher I was verbally abused by one child or another nearly every day. On a few occasions I was physically abused by an out-of-control child, and what could I do about it? Nothing, apart from tell the child not to do it, and then if this was ignored, to tell them not to do it again. The only tool that teachers have for dealing with disruptive children is force of personality, and it is unfortunate that some teachers do not have this.

Children are aware that teachers have very little powers and they use this to their advantage. Dealing with disruptive children, day in, day out can become very frustrating, especially when you are very restricted in what you can do. I was lucky in that I have a very strong voice, and when raised it can be used to good effect. Is it going to become the case that even this tool of discipline is going to be taken away from teachers?
Lucy Lord, England

Had phone lines like Child Line existed when I was a young teenager I am sure that my friends and I would have been ringing them every night with stories of abuse, all completely fictional. So if abuse statistics are calculated from these calls they are probably vastly inflated. As for teachers, if anyone wanted to get a job that brings them into contact with children for sinister reasons, there must be far easier routes than by becoming a teacher.
Gill, UK

As a "strict" and loving parent I agree with Rob and Gerry. I am always amazed how many adults let themselves be tyrannised by badly behaved, spoiled children. Surely discipline is just plain common sense! Everybody, child or adult, should learn to take both the responsibility for, and the consequences of their actions.
Polly Meyer, Switzerland

I think the whole issue of discipline has been blown out of proportion. Parents should always take the responsibilities seriously and show their children what is right or wrong. I do not advocate beating the child to pulp in the name of discipline but do not believe in sparing the rod and spoiling the child. The laws of the land have gone to the extremes and the teachers me being one know that children brought up with no sense of discipline and respect are the ones who will ultimately be juvenile delinquents.
Paul, Singapore

However regrettable the details of this case may be, we can't afford to treat allegations of this kind with anything less than 100% seriousness. The real scandal is not that the false allegations were made (until the conviction rate in the courts hits 100% false allegations are a fact of life), but that it took 18 months to settle the affair. We need a much more efficient tribunal system. Naturally it would help if more parents at least gave an impression of caring when their children behave like monsters. I have two young children, who are not angels by any means, but I have been horrified by some behaviour exhibited by their peers. Their parents sit idly by and watch them destroy play equipment and intimidate other children, but they resent any attempt by other parents (and presumably by teachers) to control this behaviour. Of course, it is inconceivable that twenty years of systematic undermining of the teaching profession by the previous government could have anything to do with this parlous state of affairs.
Guy Chapman, UK

See what happens when you blindly imitate the worst ideas from across the Pond? Why couldn't you learn from our mistakes before repeating it yourselves? Surely if we learned nothing else, we should have learned from Sen. McCarthy that witch-hunts NEVER protect the people they purport to protect, they always leave ruined innocent lives in their wake. The witch-hunt against child-abuse (of all kinds) is no different.
Matthew Johnson, USA

Yes, there are too many false accusations against teachers. I know of one who was falsely accused of sexual harassment, and the apparent lack of support from the education authority was frankly shocking. Whilst we must be careful to protect children, we cannot allow excellent teachers to be hounded from the profession by children seeking notoriety amongst their peers and education authorities who consider themselves above the law.

I'm very glad I didn't get into the profession with the way things are at the moment

Nat, UK
I looked into becoming a teacher after I finished my degree, it has always been one of the things I wanted to do. However I was not able to as the degree I have (Archaeology BSc) is not subject on the national curriculum. So I tried to apply for a History PGCE, only to be told I needed a history degree (I felt I already had this in effect because you can't do archaeology successfully without knowing some history). Anyway the upshot is I'm very glad I didn't get into the profession with the way things are at the moment.
Nat, UK

Children need discipline and are clearly not getting it at home these days. For all the "do gooders" say, fear of punishment usually has a deterrent effect and at least make children think before they misbehave and I'm sure we've all met children who could do with more discipline.

Teachers cannot teach without the means to bring pupils to the point where they can learn and sometimes it takes a while before those pupils realise they want to learn. You wouldn't send a lion tamer into the ring without a chair, would you?
Lyndon, Wales

Child protection legislation has gone way too far. Children need caring for, but also need to know what is right and wrong. Sometimes, as the last resort the cane (with full accountability) is the only way of enforcing rules. This woman should never have needed to go to court.
Phil W, UK

It is a sad fact of life that children will spread malicious rumours about their friends. What chance to teachers have when they are disliked by the students.
Lim Wei Chieh, Australia

I strongly agree that Marjorie's accusers should be prosecuted for libel and slander. Also, Marjorie should press for compensation and damages as well. Besides, for some kids there is nothing like good slapping especially when all other means are exhausted. As for the child protection laws, the legislation in this area has gone too far to the ludicrous point where we cannot effectively protect our property and personal safety from wily teenagers. If this legislation is not amended or withdrawn large parts of this country are going to be unsafe.
Natalie, UK

To all the whinging teachers - get another job! Teaching has got to be the worst stressful job on earth. Only when schools are running 2 days a week will anything be done. Teachers deserve a minimum of 40,000 a year, plus video cameras in classrooms. Parents and children should be forced to sign a contract that binds them and their children to a three-strikes-and-you're-expelled rule.
Mark, England

Children can and do lie

Mary, UK
Who has been abused in this case? Mrs Evans. The accused. As is usually the case. Children can and do lie. And their parents encourage them.
Mary, UK

The answer lies in cameras in the classrooms. The resulting films can be used as teacher training tools, for proof to parents and school boards of disruptive student behaviour, and to protect both students and teachers from student and teacher violence.
Linda, USA

The education system has to place more a little more faith in the teacher

Being a student, I probably don't realise the full extent of what it means to be a teacher. But I can say from personal experience that they form such an integral part of society that they have to be treated with respect. Children have to be taught to do so at home. I think the education system has to place more a little more faith in the teacher and I hope not resort to something that treats them as they are kids by employing cameras in classrooms. The system has to step in somewhere to protect teachers too.

Tanya from USA should note. In the past when a child would earn a clip round the ear for "being cheeky" - never mind anything more serious, behavioural standards were much higher than they are now. In the current excuse for society a violent criminal can sue a police officer who restrains them, a child can destroy a teacher's reputation even when no wrong has been done, and behavioural standards can scarcely get much lower. I'm glad you are so sure that you are "right" - never mind that the evidence from most of the "civilised" world suggests the exact opposite.
Tanya Smithson, England

Try to start inspiring the child, capture his interest and there is your answer to discipline in the classroom

Brendan Martin, Norway
I think that it is really sad to see many people asking for corporal punishment to be brought back. A very important point that no one has mentioned is "the role of the teacher"! Teachers are not in classrooms to punish children, nor to discipline them. Teachers are there to show children the way to knowledge, to guide them. All humans have the inner drive to find knowledge, this is a fact, or we all would still be living in caves! Let's turn this whole problem around and look at the way teachers are trying to educate, with their punishments, authoritarian attitudes and punishment methods! Try to start inspiring the child, capture his interest and there is your answer to discipline in the classroom. I am a Montessori teacher who loves going to work every day, I have a class of 25 children aged between 9-12. I have never hit any of the children, if they are unconcentrated in the classroom it is usually me who hasn't inspired them to work.
Brendan Martin, Norway

Teaching is the profession of professions. This noble profession is believed to be as holy as preaching and most probably for this reason we had honourable prophets who are regarded as high as super human. Now the teachers, parents and the elders must be considered as highly respectable people of our society. There may be some black sheep in every field. But in case, a particular number of teachers are immoral or unmannered or almost untrained for the purpose. As the accusation goes against the teacher Marjorie Evans, her matter might have been taken secretly by a secret tribunal or special court so that it could not be so much publicised. Also a very few number of people with the proficiency of teaching may adopt the teaching profession since excellent teachers have always been in shortage in every community. I am afraid what will happen with the building up of nations with enormous personality-wealth-fame - scarcity which has been the case here for a long time !
A.R.Shams, Pakistan

There is one answer to this problem. Bad parenting in many but not all families. Teachers are there to educate, it is the parents who have failed, not the child.
Peter Shortland, UK

Once again a teacher is punished by having their life turned into hell for eighteen months. Let's not kid ourselves, some teachers will commit 'criminal acts' in relation to the children they teach. But there needs to be a mechanism that punishes the accuser if the courts find the accusation is malicious and unfounded.
Peter Haslett, Australia

On the subject of fair punishments in schools, I'd like to take up Helen's point about her class being kept in detention for a week due to the actions of one boy. No, because one teacher didn't do his or her job properly. If the boy was naughty, he should have been punished, not the whole class, They are not responsible for his behaviour. Whatever the merits of corporal punishment, whole class punishments are an obvious injustice and only serve to sour the relationship between teacher and class.
Graham Giles (veteran of numerous class detentions), UK

The burden of proof should be on the child who comes forth with the accusations

Jeff, USA
I agree that people who work with children are too vulnerable to false accusations. Children are very impressionable and often get the wrong ideas of what is and is not abuse. Any allegations made by a child against an adult who cares for them must be thoroughly investigated before charges are brought. After all, doesn't a fair and free justice system believe in innocence until proven guilty? The burden of proof should be on the child who comes forth with the accusations, not on the person trying to protest their innocence.
Jeff, USA

It used to be the case that any accusation by a child was routinely dismissed, since children were held to be incapable of understanding the seriousness of what they said. That led to some adults getting away with a fair amount of real abuse, sexual and physical. We seem to have swung a bit too far the other way, and careers are being ruined because of accusations that are never properly verified. We need to be somewhere in the middle, where a child's accusation is listened to and investigated, but those accused still have to be protected by a presumption of innocence.
Jon Livesey, USA

Of course teachers are too vulnerable. Especially badly-behaved children from disreputable homes are very capable of lying, and of threatening teachers, particularly female teachers; they are often egged on by their parents. Teachers have too little powers of discipline because no form of corporal punishment is allowed. This is all due to silly 'child-centred learning'.
Carys, UK

As a teacher such a question becomes rhetorical. Considering that some kids come from homes with little or no parental discipline they usually mistake discipline for maltreatment. However, there are also black sheep in the teachers folk who truly, callously and wickedly maltreat students.
Hamilton Arrey Ayuk, Cameroon, USA

I would be very happy to have cameras in the classroom

Alan Murphy, USA
I am a teacher and I would be very happy to have cameras in the classroom. This would help to protect both the students and the teachers. It would also allow the teachers to let the parents of some of the students see how their children behave in school. Currently, teachers can do very little to discipline students and disruptive, disinterested students can poison the learning environment for those students who would like to learn.
Alan Murphy, USA

The only thing children learn from being hit (call it a "clip round the ear" if you like, but it's still being hit) is that you can get your own way if you use violence. Show me the evidence that suggests physical pain helps with understanding your responsibilities and I'll give up my "do gooder" membership. I'd rather be "good" and "correct" than "bad" and "wrong".
Leigh, USA (UK)

I personally know many teachers, myself included, who have left the profession because of the intolerable stress

I personally know many teachers, myself included, who have left the profession because of the intolerable stress. I was an 'excellent' teacher by Ofsted standards, and, more importantly, by the parents' and by my own standards. But management inefficiencies and other problems led to my long protracted illness brought on by extreme stress. Many, as I said, have left because of the outrageous pressures. What do I do now? Nothing, after 4 years I am still unable to work.

Strange how now we have comments about how difficult teachers' jobs are given the poor behaviour of children, but when it comes to discussing a pay rise, the comments were about whinging teachers getting into the real world. I'm glad that the hard work that I put into my job is being recognised.
Graham Tipping, UK

How about video cameras in classrooms?

Rodger Edwards, UK
All kids are well capable of telling lies that cause trouble for adults. If it's grassing up Mum to Granny for not handing over enough pocket money, we all laugh. The problem is that such antics can land people such as teachers in really hot water. If on the other hand we discount all complaints by children, we place the genuinely vulnerable in potentially mortal peril. How can we separate fact from fiction? How about video cameras in classrooms? It sounds a bit extreme, but it all comes down to how seriously society decides to treat this issue.
Rodger Edwards, UK

Raising your voice can be very useful when attempting to gain control of a situation which has got out of hand. Often it is the only way teachers can make students pay attention! Surely preventing it will only lead to an increased number of frustrated teachers and excluded pupils as teachers will find it even more difficult to control a difficult class through no fault of their own?
Michael T. Farnworth, Isle of Man

A head teacher gets hauled through the courts due to false allegations from a pupil. There is something seriously wrong going on here. Personally I never did see the point of banning corporal punishment in schools. The ban is a fine demonstration of how much damage political correctness can cause. An entire generation has never been taught responsibility for their actions, and that's a real shame.
Mark B, UK

Rob is correct, children have been taught their rights but not their responsibilities. The trendy education methods have over the years removed any semblance of respect for teachers and adults generally. We have a generation of yobs that have been produced by a generation of yobs. No wonder nobody wants to be a teacher.
Gerry Anstey, England

The accuser always appears to have more weight in the eyes of the law and the press

Martin Adams, UK
There appears no deterrent to people who falsely accuse - whether it is a pupil accusing a teacher over "violence", a patient accusing a doctor over "misconduct", or a woman accusing a man over "rape". With all of these cases, there must be something that the party wrongly accused can get redress, and for the perpetrator to be rightly punished. From the days of witch-hunting, nothing has changed - the accuser always appears to have more weight in the eyes of the law and the press, than the accused. This must stop as this injustice shows acute naivety of our legal system in relation to humankind (i.e. the law cannot understand that many people lie to achieve their aims).
Martin Adams, UK

There is a difficult balance that has to be struck between protecting children from real abuse and giving the teacher the human right not to be punished or penalised in any way until proven guilty. I hope anyone who has made a false accusation has time in adulthood to reflect on the damage they have caused - not only to the innocent teacher, but to future generations of abused children who may no longer be given the credibility they deserve.
Richard, UK

Anyone working with children nowadays has no power of discipline over the children whatsoever, thanks to "politically-correct" do-gooders, and parents failing in their responsibility to instil discipline into their children from birth! I abhor child abuse, but a "clip around the ear" never did me any harm!
Rob, England

So - a child can disrupt lessons and the teacher can do nothing. The child can be verbally aggressive and the teacher can do nothing. The child can be physically aggressive if not violent, and the teacher can do nothing. If the teacher attempts to prevent the little darling "expressing itself" all hell breaks loose. If the child makes an allegation, even if it has no basis whatsoever in fact, the teacher is suspended and faces one inquiry after another. When finally found innocent the teacher's name has been dragged through the mud and the child isn't even named. That sounds fair, given the standards of this Government.
John B, UK

Teachers are in an impossible position of being expected to discipline other people's children without either upsetting the children or being seen to threaten the position of authority parents like to believe they occupy in the minds of their offspring (even though many prove unwilling or incapable of living up to this image). Marjorie Evans, like many many other teachers, has been the victim of a witch-hunt. Teachers' careers, reputations and lives should not be held in the balance by the petty machinations and resentments of those whose shortcomings they are expected to compensate for. Unfortunately, because of this country's warped and bitter attitude to the teaching profession, this is precisely what is happening in schools of all sizes across the country, and particularly in primary schools and in small "neighbourhood" communities.
Beth, UK

Children's complaints should be taken seriously but lets have enquiries carried out in private. The big problem we have now is that teachers endure 'trial by media' and are usually branded guilty by just an accusation.
Helen, UK

Somehow our common sense is not playing an expected role in our society. The legal battle was unnecessary; it actually disgraced itself by revealing its weakness and ineffective system clearly.

Bring back the cane! I am saying this as a number of teenagers and young adults don't want to go into teaching. It is not just the low salaries, but most of us had classes with one or two characters that spoil the rest of the class. When I was in year 8, the whole of my form was put onto class detention for a week due to one immature little boy. Detentions don't punish the ones in trouble nor does excluding them as I see them going to town etc. Teachers should be exempted from smacking laws
Helen, UK

They said corporal punishment was too extreme for disciplining naughty children, so they banned it - fair enough. They then said that physical contact with naughty children should be banned, like flicking them around the ear etc, so they did that too. Now, they say shouting and raising your voice is too extreme for disciplining naughty children. Is this pushing the boat out a little too far? I think so. I mean, what are they going to say next? Perhaps they will ban direct communication between the child and teacher altogether. Maybe the teacher will just appear on a big TV screen in front of them offering the children no interaction whatsoever.
Jeff, UK

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16 Mar 01 | Education
Head cleared of mistreating pupils
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