One in four school staff have faced a false allegation from a pupil - ATL

26 October 2009

A quarter of school staff have had a false allegation made against them by a pupil, and one in six have had an allegation made by a member of a pupil's family, according to an Association of Teachers and Lecturers
(ATL) survey.

In addition, 50 per cent of school staff reported that they or a colleague have had a false allegation made against them in their current school or college by a pupil or a member of a pupil's family.

These were the key findings of a survey of over a thousand (1,155) ATL members working as support staff, teachers, department heads and school leaders in state and private schools around the UK.

In half the cases the allegation was immediately dismissed by the school. The police were only notified in 16 per cent of instances, and took no further action in 55 of the 67 cases they investigated.

Dr Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said: "School staff are having their careers blighted by false allegations and their private lives damaged as a result of the stress. We are losing good teachers, heads and support staff to the detriment of children's education. We all accept the protection of children is paramount, but that should not be at the expense of natural justice - school staff have rights too.

"This survey suggests huge numbers of staff are facing false allegations every week. It's time the balance was redressed so that school staff are not presumed guilty until proven innocent. The right to anonymity should be re-examined, to reduce the damage to the lives of innocent staff and make it less difficult to reintegrate into school.

"We would also like heads to avoid putting an automatic bar on staff having contact with colleagues, because cutting contact with colleagues compounds stress and feelings of isolation so makes a return to school less likely even when allegations are proved false."

ATL executive member Louise Davies said: "There are serious concerns that staff are at risk of allegations by a few pupils and copy cat claims by others. If a pupil has a record of making allegations then staff should be aware of this so they can be extra vigilant for their own safety. The pupil may also need to be professionally supported as to why they make such claims."

Anonymous cases reported to ATL:

Secondary teacher: "Two work colleagues have been recently suspended; one was dismissed despite a police investigation proving innocence."

Primary teacher in Wales: "The police were notified, but no action was taken as the child who assaulted me was under the required age. Following this, the child's parent accused me of hitting her child. I have not returned to work in a school since. I had post traumatic stress and a period of long-term sick."

Primary teacher: "The parent subsequently withdrew the accusation, and the child continued in my class where I established an at least reasonable relationship with the parent concerned."

Secondary teacher: "An anonymous handwritten fax was received by social services and passed to police who informed the school. I was informed 12 hours before a 'surprise' interview by the police by the head as he believed the accusations to be false. Police arrived on my doorstep at 07.45. I was allowed to read the fax but not keep a copy. The handwriting was identifiable and suggested one ex-pupil was potentially responsible for writing it. The police did not follow-up this malicious act despite my request for them to take action, nor would they state the case was closed. I became depressed and sorely tempted to leave the profession."

Secondary head of department in Wales: "Investigations were going on without my knowledge, and only my head teacher's intervention prevented the police turning up at my house to interview me at the weekend. Although the allegation was bogus and made in spite for reprimanding a pupil for being late, a record of the allegation would be made and kept on my personnel file."

Primary teacher: "This is a devastating thing to happen, even when all allegations are found to be totally untrue, it stays on your record and can prejudice any future case. It's terrifying, shocking and very upsetting. It's taken me nearly two years to begin to get over it, and even now I get depressed, and think about giving up work."

Primary teacher: "The allegations were of a very explicit sexual nature and because they were so far-fetched, they were not believed. Eventually the child admitted making them up as a way to exude power over his peers.  Thankfully the school was 100% supportive, but I dread to think of what could have happened if the head had been less supportive or the allegations more realistic."

Secondary teacher: "A secondary school teacher on a temporary one-year contract suffered a false allegation by a pupil. Even though the complaint was unfounded, he found it impossible to get another teaching job as the complaint remained on his personnel file. He completely lost his confidence about going back into the classroom, and ultimately he had to leave the teaching profession for ever, as he no longer could earn a living doing the job he had once loved."

Secondary teacher: "It is now a trend at my current school that if you reprimand a student, they try and get you into trouble. A student even reported a teacher for inappropriate physical contact (untrue) just so they could move classes. It is getting out of hand because we are powerless against it."

Further notes:

The survey was completed in May 2009 by 1,155 ATL members working as support staff, teachers, heads of departments and school leaders in state and private schools around the UK.

Key results:

Has anyone in your current school / college had a false allegation made against them by a pupil or a pupil's parent / guardian / family member? (1,155 responses)
*  50% said yes
*  18% said no
*  32% don't know

Have you ever had a false allegation made against you by a pupil? (1,155 responses)
*  28% said yes
*  72% said no

Have you ever had a false allegation made against you by a pupil's parent / guardian / family member? (1,155 responses)
*  17% said yes
*  83% said no

What happened initially as a result of the allegation? (368 responses)
*  50% of allegations were dismissed immediately
*  5% were suspended while the allegation was investigated
*  10% were subject to disciplinary action by the school / college
*  35% of cases something else happened - such as interviews with head, parents brought into the school, witness statements taken from pupils and / or other staff, internal investigations

Were the police notified of the allegation? (316 responses)
* 16% said yes
* 84% said no

Notes to editors

  1. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing approximately 170,000 teachers, headteachers, lecturers and support staff in maintained and independent nurseries, schools, sixth form, tertiary and further education colleges in the United Kingdom.

  2. ATL exists to help members, as their careers develop, through first rate research, advice, information and legal advice.

  3. ATL is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). ATL is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.

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