Abuse-claim advice `ignored'

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The Independent Online

Headteachers are flouting government guidelines brought in to protect staff against false allegations of abuse by pupils, a teachers' union heard yesterday.

Despite advice that schools should investigate before taking action, teachers are still being suspended automatically, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) conference in Torquay heard.

The union called for a review of the guidance, as one of its members described how his name was still being kept on police files despite his being cleared of abuse allegations. Glyn Rowlands, a teacher at Peartree Spring junior school, in Hertfordshire, was confronted by a parent after dancing with children at a school disco 16 months ago.

The woman's seven-year-old daughter had told her Mr Rowlands invited her into the dining room to see "Father Christmas". When he was alone with the girl, she alleged, hepicked her up and kissed her before telling her she could talk to her parents about it but not to her friends. Fortunately, Mr Rowlands's wife and two sons believed he was innocent, he said, but a policewoman who visited the school to question him told him "children don't lie about these things".

Mr Rowlands was not suspended but was called to a meeting with his county council. The day it was due, a fortnight after the allegations were made, the girl withdrew them. Her parents gave him flowers and chocolates but the police did not apologise and he discovered his name would remain on their files with the words "charges withdrawn" beside it.

"Judgements should not be made before all the evidence has been gathered and certainly not by those who are investigating," Mr Rowlands said.

Peter Smith, the union's general secretary, said it would press for government guidelines on the subject, published last October, to be implemented fully. "Headteachers feel that if an allegation is made, no matter how minor it is, they have absolutely no option but to suspend. But in this particular area people are bound to say there's no smoke without fire," he said.