Children, Schools and Families: Press Notice

16 July 2009


The principle of 'innocent until proven guilty' is at risk unless urgent changes are made to the way schools, local authorities and the Government deal with allegations against school staff, warns the Children, Schools and Families Committee in a report published today.

Headteachers are still too quick to suspend staff when an allegation is made and there is too much pressure on headteachers to refer cases unnecessarily to local authorities.

Allegations should be dealt with speedily, effectively and justly, at minimum cost personally and financially to those involved.

Headteachers must have more discretion in handling allegations of misconduct and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) should provide clearer guidance to help identify when headteachers can justifiably handle complaints internally.

Barring suspended staff from social contact with colleagues is inhumane and unjust. The Committee is shocked that DCSF condones such action by employers.

The report says:
€ Investigations must be truly independent and objective
€ Powers of arrest should be used sensitively and judiciously
€ Better data and more systematic reviews of complaints must be compiled by DCSF to determine the cost of allegations and justification of any sanctions
€ Arguments for and against a statutory right of anonymity for those accused should be re-examined
€ Evidence-based decisions to delete unfounded allegations from personnel records should be taken by the Independent Safeguarding Authority
€ Terminology used in records of allegations must not unfairly indicate a suspicion of guilt
€ The Independent Safeguarding Authority should assess all proposed disclosures of 'soft' non-conviction information

The Chairman of Committee, Barry Sheerman MP, said:

"There is a fine balance to be struck between safeguarding the rights of children and the rights of those who work with children. Allegations proven to be true must be punished. But the vast majority of complaints made against school staff have little or no foundation.

"My Committee heard shocking evidence about the treatment of accused staff and the devastating impact unfounded allegations of misconduct can have on those involved, which can ruin careers and can come at a significant physical, mental and financial cost. I urge the Government to take immediate action to ensure people's lives are not ruined by a failure to deal appropriately, sensitively, and quickly with complaints when they are made."