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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 17:11 GMT
Concerns over lengthy teacher complaint cases
stressed teacher
Allegations rock teachers' self-confidence
The plight of Welsh head teacher Marjorie Evans has served to highlight the difficulties teachers and the authorities face when a pupil accuses someone of assault.

It is estimated that at any one time there are some 100 teachers in England and Wales who are suspended pending investigations of assault claims - at huge cost to the system, and to their self-confidence.


There has been a cultural shift in people appearing to think that it's all a good game to have a go at a teacher

NUT lawyer Graham Clayton
In most cases no action is taken, but the investigation process can take months.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of NASUWT classroom union, said: "There is one issue which is common to virtually all similar cases to the one against Marjorie Evans. This is the appalling length of time which these cases take.

"It is not just a question of justice delayed, justice denied. The appalling delays usually wreck the professional and personal lives of the teachers who have been accused."

Speeding up

He called on the government urgently to review this aspect of such cases.

"The government has boasted that it has introduced a fast-track procedure of six weeks to get rid of incompetent teachers," he added.

"It is a scandal that it does not share the same level of concern in ensuring teachers are treated with justice."

In fact there are moves to speed up the handling of accusations by pupils against teachers in England.

A source at the Department for Education said measures were likely to be introduced within the next month, once the case had been considered, to help school governors speed up investigations.

'Common sense'

The department rejects as impractical a Conservative call for anonymity for accused teachers because it is felt it would be impossible to keep teachers' identities secret locally.

In Wales, an inquiry has been ordered. The Education Minister, Jane Davidson, has asked for details of events and procedures in the case, to see if they can be improved upon.

Mrs Evans's union, the NUT - which backed her throughout - deals with a couple of dozen similar cases a year and says there is often no need for undue delay.

NUT senior solicitor Graham Clayton said it had been established in a different case - unconnected with teaching - that no employee should be suspended unless there is a "considered good reason" for such action.

That would depend on the circumstances of each case - but no employer should be suspending people unless they had identified a reason for doing so which made it necessary to remove someone from their workplace.

Guidance

"These are of course extremely sensitive issues but it depends on the good sense of those dealing with them," he said.

"It often happens in the education system. A lot are and can be sorted out. They are always sensitive but they are not always difficult."

Police did not necessarily have to be involved.

"If an allegation suggests there has been some potential criminal act then there is a need for the employer to ask whether it could have any substance at all. Only then would they have to inform the police."

Department for Education guidelines on the subject warn that "an over-hasty or ill-judged decision immediately to suspend a teacher ... can have a substantial, detrimental effect upon a teacher's career. It can, at the very least, prove to be a traumatic experience for the teacher concerned, for children at the school and their parents, and for other staff. "

Culture shift

Mr Clayton said there had been a change in pupils' and parents' attitudes - a "you can't do that to me" mentality - which the union was keen to see reversed.

"There has been a cultural shift in people appearing to think that it's all a good game to have a go at a teacher," he said. "That's intolerable."

In part it was a reflection of the public status and self-esteem of the teaching profession.

For that reason the NUT was looking to turn the tables.

"Parents and accusers have to realise they won't be protected: They are going to be the defendants," he said.

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16 Mar 01 | Education
Head cleared of mistreating pupils
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