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Saturday, 14 April, 2001, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
Teachers helped against false claims
fight in referral unit
Allegations often arise when teachers break up fights
By Sean Coughlan at the NUT conference in Cardiff

Teachers are to be offered greater protection against the damage of false allegations by pupils.

Education Secretary David Blunkett has announced the speeding up of investigations into complaints of physical or sexual abuse - with the aim of clearing the names of those falsely accused within three months.

At the National Union of Teachers conference in Cardiff, Mr Blunkett announced spending of 1.4m on a network of 25 co-ordinators across England who will enable the faster processing of complaints.

He was expected to meet the head teacher and NUT member Marjorie Evans, who was cleared of mistreating pupils after an 19-month ordeal.

'Tragedy'

Mr Blunkett said lessons had been learned from her "tragedy" and he congratulated the NUT for what it had done "to free her from that nightmare".

A large majority of the 400 or so complaints against teachers each year are subsequently found to be false - but this can take between nine months and two years.

"A balance should be struck between protecting pupils and ensuring teachers do not have their careers smeared or damaged by false allegations," Mr Blunkett said.

"It is our duty to ensure allegations are dealt with quickly so that innocent teachers can return to the classroom swiftly.

"Dealing with cases more quickly can also help the victims of genuine abuse too, as the anguished wait for justice is reduced."

Suspension

The co-ordinators will offer advice to local authorities and school governors and who will work with education authorities, police, health and social services.

There could also be further movement on protecting teachers from malicious claims in the future, which could allow teachers who have been accused of physical assault the option of staying in school until the case has been investigated.

The NUT's general secretary, Doug McAvoy, said the union had been in talks with the government, police and social services about whether teachers should always be suspended when allegations were made.

These developments will apply to England, not Wales, where Marjorie Evans works.

The Welsh assembly has set up its own inquiry into what went wrong in her case. Mr Blunkett said his counterpart on the assembly, Jane Davidson, would be announcing similar measures to his.

'Need to know schools'

Mrs Evans is concerned that the proposed new co-ordinators might have a police or social service background.

"My personal views are that these co-ordinators need to have some education background too," she said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"The social services and police don't understand the hurly burly of school life at all."

Mr Blunkett said he was prepared to consult the teaching profession on the issue before reaching a final decision.

"It is all part of getting the balance right and ensuring that teachers know that if they are unfairly accused, or if there is undue pressure, or there is something unacceptable happening, we are on their side," he told the programme.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mike Baker
"The government will pay for 25 co-ordinators to ensure cases are completed quickly"
Head teacher Marjorie Evans
"Three months is still a long time... not knowing which way your case is going to go"
The BBC's Sue Littlemore at the NUT conference
"The teachers are pleased that the government is doing something"
Education Secretary David Blunkett
"I want to consult urgently with the profession"
See also:

17 Jun 00 | UK Education
11 Nov 99 | UK Education
27 Apr 00 | Unions 2000
20 Apr 00 | Unions 2000
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