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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 April, 2004, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Teachers want to sue accusing pupils
School teachers talking in staff room
Careers can be ruined by false allegations
Teachers want to claim compensation from children who make false accusations against them.

Delegates at the annual conference of the NASUWT teachers' union went against their leaders' legal advice that such claims for compensation were not viable.

According to union figures, only 69 out of 1,782 allegations of abuse made by children against its members over the past 10 years had led to convictions.

So the conference demanded a change in the law so teachers could sue under-18s or their parents.

'Lives ruined'

An NASUWT official from Leeds, Jack Jackson, said: "What has happened over the last 10 years is that the balance has tilted too much in favour of the children.

"The current attitude of children's services is that children never lie.

It can ruin their lives and the accuser can go on as if nothing had happened
Jack Jackson, NASUWT
"The teacher is considered to be guilty and the onus is on them to prove themselves innocent."

He said: "For those members who are the victims of false allegations, there can be no closure.

"It can ruin their lives and the accuser concerned can go on as if nothing had happened."

Threat

A union official from Nottinghamshire, Mike Wilson, said he had represented a "gentle" female colleague accused of having assaulted a 6ft 2in teenager in his final GCSE year.

What had happened was she had scratched his arm while trying to free him after he had managed to close a door on himself, he said.

In other cases, pupils had been threatening to report teachers to the police if they referred their bad behaviour to the head teacher.

Sue Brown from Bedfordshire said one teacher in her area was considering legal action to force a pupil who had made a false allegation against him out of his class.

Legal problem

But the union's treasurer, Sue Rogers, said it was better to take industrial action - and refuse to have such a child in the classroom.

"I understand the desire people have to want to hit back but the reality is it is not possible to bring legal action against minors," she said.

"If you go and take on their families you are heading down an extremely difficult and impossible road."

After the vote, the union's deputy general secretary, Chris Keates, said the problem was that children were regarded, in the legal jargon, as "men of straw" - that is, with no assets that could be pursued through the courts.

Going after the family was not always right, either.

"We have had cases of malicious allegations where the families have been totally horrified when they have realised their child is making a malicious allegation and have not supported what the child has done," she said.

But in view of the conference's decision the issue would be re-examined.

Anonymity

She did agree with delegates that the need for anonymity for teachers who were accused - until and unless the matter was settled in court - was "crucial".

When he addressed the conference earlier, the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, said he totally understood the points teachers were making.

He had had a case in his own constituency involving a primary school head teacher, in which the courts had decided finally had no substance.

So he was "able to look at ways we can deal with those situations" - but he did not think legislation was the answer.

Ms Keates said this was something of a breakthrough as no previous secretary of state had been prepared even to consider the issue of anonymity.

In its evidence to the Soham inquiry into events surrounding the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the union had given examples of information held on file about teachers which should never have been there in the first place.

It was "absolutely crucial" that people should know when the police felt it necessary to hold information about them.

Otherwise - she threatened - thousands of teachers might have to use their rights under the Data Protection Act to demand access to their files.




SEE ALSO:
Teachers demand action on assaults
06 Apr 04  |  Education
Teachers refuse violent pupils
21 Oct 03  |  Education
Union anger at head abuse claim
27 Feb 04  |  Wales
Rise in abuse claims against teachers
31 Jul 03  |  Education


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