Conservatives back fines for parents who falsely accuse teachers

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The Independent Online

Plans to fine parents who make false accusations against teachers have been welcomed by the Conservatives.

Headteachers have called for the financial sanctions in the hope that they will deter frivolous allegations of poor conduct. Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said a minority of parents were “intent on siding with delinquent children to aggressively challenge and accuse” teachers.

The Tory schools spokesman Michael Gove, who will be Education Secretary if the Conservatives form the next government, indicated support for the idea. An aide of Mr Gove’s said yesterday that fining parents “seems like a good idea”.

Mr Gove added that students should also “face the consequences of their own bad behaviour” if they made false allegations.

Around 4,000 allegations are made against teachers a year with only one in 20 being found to be true.

The union has called for teachers to be allowed to remain anonymous while accusations are investigated – a move already taken up by Mr Gove – and it has been holding discussions with the Local Government Ombudsman, who already has the power to fine schools and local authorities for breaches of admissions policies, about introducing a new system of fines.

Speaking at his union’s annual conference in Liverpool, Mr Brookes told headteachers: “We have asked the new Ombusdman to consider a system of fines for those who accuse our colleagues unjustly.

“All of those who invent or elaborate for malicious, pecuniary or vindictive purposes should be liable to be fined and not a letter of their accusation should enter a teacher’s record.

“It is time to end this injustice.”

Mr Brookes cited the case of a father – “six foot six and built like a brickhouse door” – who burst into a school to intimidate a female member of staff over the way she had treated his child.

The headteacher had him escorted from the premises whereupon he made an accusation that the teacher had assaulted his child. “Police were called in, social services were involved and questions were asked as to whether the teacher should be suspended,” Mr Brookes said.

“The outcome was that there was no case to answer because there were plenty of other staff and children who were witnesses to what had happened.

“What was caused, though, was anxiety to the teacher and a deep Criminal Records Bureau check on her would have revealed that an allegation had been made.”

This could have scuppered her chances of getting another job on the “no smoke without fire” basis, he said.

“It also tied up the headteacher of that particular school for days gathering the evidence,” Mr Brookes added.

“If the complaint had been made against a police officer, the parent could have been charged with wasting police time. Why can’t you have an offence of wasting education time?”

Mr Brookes also cited a case from his former school, Sherwood in Nottingham, where it had attempted to sweep away the snow after a heavy fall in an attempt to keep it open for the day.

“There were still other bits of ice and a child fell and grazed themselves,” he said.

“I then heard from the local authority and a solictor that they were trying to sue us for negligence.

“It was resolved with no case to answer. In reality, she was just trying to screw some money out of the authority.

“I felt so outraged. It would have been nice to have this power as a backstop.”

Mr Brookes stressed: “We don’t want to deter parents who have genuine complaints from pursuing those complaints but we do need to deter the serial complainers.”

However, the Schools Secretary Ed Balls said he would prefer to rely on existing libel and slander laws to address the situation rather than introduce a new offence.

Meanwhile, the three party education spokesmen took part in a live debate at the conference with Mr Gove promising a review of school inspections if he takes office on Friday. Headteachers had warned they could follow their boycott of national curriculum tests with a boycott of inspections by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, because of the inaccuracy of judgements and the stress they caused.

David Laws, for the Liberal Democrats, won applause for pledging to bring an end to “too much political meddling” in schools.

Mr Balls, who was received by the heads in silence because of his insistence on testing 11-year-olds this term despite opposition, complained that it was not an “honest debate” because Mr Gove would not address the issue of where the Conservatives would cut spending.