Heads at risk of false abuse allegations: Union warns of rise in complaints

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GROWING NUMBERS of head teachers are being suspended after being accused falsely of child abuse by pupils and parents.

The National Association of Head Teachers said yesterday that 'perfectly innocent actions' were now giving rise to false allegations of abuse.

Head teachers and deputies who were present while young pupils of the opposite sex were changing, who helped young children to dress or comforted them, were often the victims.

The association is also concerned about increasing allegations of assault since corporal punishment became illegal. Eric Spear, the branch secretary for Kent, who has dealt with four such allegations this term, all proved unfounded, said: 'Since the cane was outlawed almost any contact can be construed as physical assault.'

Heads are sometimes tried twice for the alleged offence: even when the police find no evidence, governors or the local authority insist on their own investigation because social workers believe that a child is telling the truth.

Social workers may ask to video an interview with the suspended head's own children as part of their investigation or convene a conference to decide whether their children should be placed on an 'at- risk' register.

One head, who did not wish to be named, described yesterday how he put a hand on an 11-year-old boy's shoulder to move him away from a narrow walkway which he was deliberately obstructing so that other children could not get past. The child's mother complained to the local authority that he had put his hand to the boy's throat and pushed him into a cupboard.

An investigation by both the police and social services found that there was no case to answer. The governing body also held an inquiry which reached the same conclusion.

'But it took three months and caused a lot of stress and anxiety both for me and my family,' he said. 'I am fairly resilient but colleagues in similar situations have been traumatised by the experience.'

David Hart, the association's general secretary, said: 'No allegation of child abuse can afford to be ignored but we are now seeing a rising tide of complaints against heads and deputy heads, many of which are unfounded and malicious.

'Teachers are particularly vulnerable to such allegations, yet there are local authorities and governing bodies which act in a manner leading to maximum distress for the innocent party.'

The association is writing to all its branch secretaries suggesting that they challenge governors and local authorities who 'trawl' parents and pupils to build up a case.

It says that suspensions should be challenged immediately and that members who are threatened with suspension have a right to be represented.