A teacher broke down in tears yesterday as he recalled his "three months of hell" after being falsely accused of punching a 12-year-old pupil.
Adrian Wells, head of maths at Ysgol Penglais comprehensive in Aberystwyth, told a conference of teachers his confidence was shattered by a police investigation and an inquiry by child protection officials before he was told no further action would be taken.
He received a standing ovation after telling delegates his accuser had not been removed from the school, despite a history of similar incidents. A fresh allegation by the child against another teacher was currently being investigated, he said.
Mr Wells, a teacher for 22 years, told the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Belfast: "What do I want? That no one else should take my pain. That nobody else should suffer what I suffered."
The union has recorded a steady rise in allegations of physical and sexual assaults by teachers on pupils in the past four years. It dealt with 120 cases last year, up from 100 the year before and 70 in 1997.
Despite the increase, the claims are found to be groundless in more than nine out of 10 cases. Leaders of the 150,000-strong union called for pupils who make malicious allegations to be expelled or moved to another school wherever possible.
Peter Smith, the union's general secretary, called on ministers to review child protection legislation to "stop teachers being regarded as guilty until they are proved innocent".
Mr Wells, 44, who is married with three children, told delegates how he was accused by the 12-year-old boy in October, who said the teacher had punched him in the face after Mr Wells told him off over a lunchtime incident at school.
The boy later went to hospital and reported the allegation to the police, claiming to have a head injury.
Mr Wells praised the school's headteacher, who immediately conducted an investigation into the allegations and resisted pressure to suspend him.
Most teachers faced with allegations from pupils are immediately suspended, an act regarded as neutral by the authorities but claimed by teachers to slur those later found to be innocent.
Mr Wells, who has worked at the school for 11 years, said: "I cannot begin to relate to you the desolation felt by the teacher faced with the prospect of an interview with the police."
He said he had been trained in child protection work, but was devastated by the allegation. "I found it very very hard to be in school, knowing that I was powerless. All the way through I knew that I had done nothing wrong, but I started to doubt. I doubted the wisdom of what I was doing.
"There were times when I went to school and I found it very difficult to go on.
"I do not want revenge because that's not what I'm interested in but there must be some rights for the teacher. What I'm interested in is that others in the education system want protection."
He described as "numbing" his feeling of powerlessness to influence the investigation conducted by child protection officials and claimed the child's parents had "scant regard" for the teaching profession.
Ray Butler, a delegate from North Tyneside, said he wasaccused of assaulting a boy last year. He was cleared when a doctor on the child protection panel that considered his case found the child had a brown and yellow bruise - making it a day too old to have been the result of the alleged attack.
Stuart Herdson from Leeds called for children to be expelled if they made allegations later found to be false. He said: "Children will carry on making allegations against staff as long are there is no adequate protection and no adequate safeguards. They always did and they always will.
"What worries us most of all is that when an allegation is found to be malicious and completely untrue, then no action is taken against the child. Many children commit crimes and they come before the courts. What happens to these children is they go straight back into the school."
David Hytch, a delegate from North Wales, said: "Over the last 20 years there has been open season on teachers and it must be remedied. Teachers who abuse have no place in the profession but there is also such a phenomenon as the malicious child."
Peter Smith, the union's general secretary, said: "All of us appreciate the importance of protecting children. No one wants teachers to have a licence to use children as punchbags." But, he said: "There is an inbuilt assumption by social services that the teacher is guilty until proven innocent."
Mike Taylor, the director of child care for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said: "Most child abuse is unreported. The danger is that this will discourage children from speaking out and voicing their fears and concerns.
"Every allegation of abuse should be taken seriously,with a proper independent investigation."Reuse content