Teachers want right to sue over false claims

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Teachers have demanded a change in the law to allow them to sue pupils for compensation if they make false allegations of physical or sexual abuse, the second largest teachers' union said yesterday.

Teachers have demanded a change in the law to allow them to sue pupils for compensation if they make false allegations of physical or sexual abuse, the second largest teachers' union said yesterday.

Malicious allegations destroyed teachers' careers, marriages and lives, yet children were never punished for making up damaging accusations, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said.

Only 69 out of 1,782 allegations of abuse made by children against NASUWT members over the past 10 years had actually led to convictions, union figures showed.

Delegates at the union's annual conference in Llandudno voted for a change in the law to allow teachers accused of physical or sexual abuse who were found not guilty to claim compensation from their accusers and their families.

The motion, which was approved, also called for teachers facing allegations to be protected by anonymity until they were convicted of an offence. The union's executive had attempted to have all calls for compensation struck out of the motion. But delegates defeated the executive's amendment by 381 votes to 151.

Earlier, Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, signalled that he was willing to consider better protection for accused teachers but told the conference that he was sceptical about introducing legislation to guarantee anonymity. "I am ready to look at ways we can deal with this kind of situation," Mr Clarke said yesterday. "I am sceptical about whether legislation is the right approach. The whole issue you are raising is a real one and will become increasingly real as people increasingly think they can just take a pop at authority."

Jack Jackson, an NASUWT official from Leeds who proposed the motion, urged delegates to demand new laws to protect teachers.

"What has happened over the past 10 years is that the balance has tilted too much in favour of the children," he said. "The current attitude of children's services is that children never lie. The teacher is considered to be guilty and the onus is on them to prove themselves innocent." He accused headteachers of having "abrogated" their responsibility to manage complaints against staff properly. "Their kneejerk reaction is to go straight to formal procedures."

It can take months or even years for claims against teachers to be investigated and go to court, despite attempts by the Government to speed up the process. Teachers are often suspended for the entire period and, after police inquiries are completed and charges dropped, local education authority investigations may delay their return to school even further.

Dave Jones, a union official from Walsall, urged delegates to support plans to give teachers the power to sue pupils, arguing that there were currently no penalties to deter children from making malicious allegations.

He added: "For those members who are the victims of false allegations, there can be no closure. It can ruin their lives and the accuser concerned can go on as if nothing had happened. A pupil can just make a casual complaint then sit back and watch the teacher suffer. Teachers need some redress. Pupils and parents need to be made aware of the results of making these allegations."

Sue Rogers, the NASUWT's treasurer, urged delegates to drop the call for compensation for teachers saying it was better to take industrial action and refuse to have a child that falsely accused a teacher back in their class.

"I understand the desire people have to want to hit back but the reality is it is not possible to bring legal action against minors," she said. "If you go and take on their families you are heading down an extremely difficult ... road."

She added: "We are a trade union, let's go down the trade union road. This is the way to deal with these children - if they bring bring forward malicious allegations, which are known and proved to be malicious, then we could refuse to teach them."

Mr Clarke also promised better protection for teachers from the "compensation culture", which made many staff afraid to take children away on trips.

The union advises its 220,000 members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland not to take school trips for fear of being sued or prosecuted if anything goes wrong.