The key factors in relation to allegations against staff are as follows:
- It is essential that schools keep accurate records of all incidents and concerns arising in connection with a member of staff so that historical patterns can be detected (unless an allegation is found to be malicious).
- Whilst it is important to protect staff against malicious allegations, all concerns and complaints need to be treated in an open-minded way, and all evidence carefully recorded.
- Child protection training should aim to help recognition of grooming and ensure external advice is sought in any case causing concern.
If you are worried about raising concerns then please contact ATL for help, advice and support.
It is important to remember that there is a prohibition on reporting or publishing allegations about teachers. That prohibition ends if a teacher is charged but you must be very careful about maintaining confidentiality if you have raised concerns.
You should also be aware of the risk of a defamation action when making allegations that a criminal offence has been committed. Whilst there are protections in place, any person should be particularly careful about what they say to the press, the public and on social networking. Raising concerns through the official channels is by far the safest option.
Protection for whistleblowers
In terms of employment, an individual is protected from suffering a detriment or being dismissed for having made a protected disclosure (known more commonly as whistleblowing).
A protected disclosure is one that is made in the public interest and shows that a number of certain specified events has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur.
Two of the specified events are that of danger to the health and safety of an individual and a failure to comply with any legal obligation (the other events are set out in the Public Disclosure Act 1998). Any potential issue surrounding the welfare of a child is likely to fall into the first category; whilst a failure by the school or college to report concerns may fall into the second.
The term "public interest" is interpreted widely, so that disclosure about a child's welfare would probably be deemed to be in the public interest. The legislation is clear that anyone who believes that one of the events has occurred or is likely to occur should seek to resolve any concerns with their employer first, but disclosure can be made to someone else i.e. the local authority or police if a disclosure has been made to the employer but no action has been taken. The disclosure must be made in good faith. The law in this area is very complex and you should seek advice from ATL before taking any action. Members should never speak to the press or any other third party without seeking advice from ATL first. A whistleblowing factsheet has been published by ATL.
You may feel particularly vulnerable if you are making allegations or expressing concerns about other members of staff. The whistleblowing legislation has been amended to make it explicit that an employer will be responsible for detrimental behaviour by other workers even if that behaviour was without their knowledge or approval. The school or college must also protect staff from assaults (verbal or physical) by parents or carers (which may include posts on social media sites). Clearly many of these issues are highly emotive and staff can feel exposed once they have raised concerns. ATL has produced guidance on Violence, Threatening Behaviour and Abuse, which includes a section on action that the school or college should take if such behaviour arises from parents. You should also consider making a report to the police.
You should always be supported by your school or college if parents or carers complain about any report that you have made. If you are not feeling supported in such circumstances you should contact ATL straightaway for advice and support. A decision to report concerns can be a difficult one and ATL believes that no one should hesitate to do so for fear of repercussions to that individual.