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Last Updated: Monday, 1 May 2006, 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK
Accused teachers 'need shielding'
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News education reporter at the NAHT conference

Stressed teacher
The Tories want anonymity for accused teachers enshrined in law
Teachers should have a legal right to anonymity when they are accused of abusing pupils, the Conservatives have said.

Currently they are only protected by a code of practice.

Shadow education secretary David Willetts said teachers needed "added protection".

Identities should be revealed only when criminal charges are faced, he told the National Association of Head Teachers' conference in Harrogate.

Malicious allegations

Mr Willetts promised to move an amendment to the government's Education and Inspections Bill, guaranteeing teachers anonymity.

Whilst a small number of allegations of abuse by pupils are tragically true, many turn out to be unfounded
David Willetts
Shadow education secretary

A study by the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers shows that, over a 10-year-period, only 69 out of almost 1,800 complaints made against its members led to a court conviction.

Most allegations were either malicious or unproven. The research study also revealed some teachers had spent up to two years under suspension while waiting to be cleared.

Mr Willetts said: "The protection of pupils is absolutely vital but we must not forget that teachers need protection, too.

"Whilst a small number of allegations of abuse by pupils are tragically true, many turn out to be unfounded.

"Despite their innocence, for those teachers who have been unfairly accused of abuse, life is seldom the same.

"At present, there is a code of practice that says they should remain anonymous but we feel it needs the added protection of legal force."

Coroner's call

In 2003, teacher Alastair Wilbee, 47, from the Isle of Wight, committed suicide after being accused of a sex offence against a boy pupil.

The coroner in that case called for a right to anonymity in similar cases.

The NAHT later called for teenagers and parents who make malicious allegations to face legal action.

Responding to Mr Willetts' remarks, Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Sarah Teather said assaults on staff and false allegations make schools a battleground for too many teachers.

She said: "It is vital to school discipline and staff morale that both false allegations and abuse of teachers are taken seriously."

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