Accused teachers 'need anonymity'

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The Independent Online

Teachers should have the legal right to anonymity when allegations of abuse are made against them, Conservative education spokesman David Willetts will declare today.

Their identity should only revealed when they face criminal charges, he will tell the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) in Harrogate. Mr Willetts (right) will promise to move an amendment to the Government's flagship Education Bill, guaranteeing them anonymity.

His pledge follows the suicide last year of a deputy head accused of abusing an eight-year-old girl; Alastair Wilbee knew a newspaper was about to name him.

Research by teachers' leaders shows that the vast majority of allegations are either malicious or unproven. Only 69 of 1,782 complaints in the 10 years to 2005 led to a conviction. Yet, the research also revealed, teachers can spend up to two years under suspension while waiting to be cleared - making it almost impossible for them to return to school afterwards.

"The protection of pupils is absolutely vital but we must not forget that teachers need protection too," Mr Willetts will tell the conference. "Despite their innocence, for those teachers who have been unfairly accused of abuse, life is seldom the same. There is a code of practice but we feel it needs the added protection of legal force."

In the case of Mr Wilbee, from the Isle of Wight, the coroner who presided over his inquest called for anonymity in such cases.

* Dr Desmond Hamilton, president of the NAHT, has called for an end to testing of young children. He argued that ministers should instead concentrate on reducing class sizes - particularly among younger children. "Let's multiply a child's age by two," he said. "A five-year-old would then be in a class of 10 pupils. A 10-year-old would be in a class of 20."

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