Teachers' Unions in Conference: Union wants action over pupils' false sex claims

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS of teachers are facing shattered careers and personal lives because of a sharp rise in false allegations of abuse from pupils, the second biggest teachers' union heard yesterday.

Accused teachers are usually suspended immediately without further investigation, may be handcuffed and arrested in early morning police raids on their homes, and have to wait months before their innocence is established.

Many suffer nervous breakdowns and marriage break-ups and are too distraught to return to teaching even when cleared.

Yet the children who make false allegations are rarely punished because social workers believe that 'children cannot lie', delegates to the National Association of Schoolmasters/ Union of Women Teachers' conference were told.

The conference voted for the expulsion of pupils who make false accusations. The motion, passed unanimously, also called on the union to provide funds for teachers to sue pupils for defamation, subject to legal advice.

It said that teachers should not be suspended unless there was corroborating evidence or unless police charges had been brought. The union wants ministers to review the law. It says the implementation of the Children Act 1989, designed to protect children from abuse, has accelerated the number of allegations.

In 1991 it dealt with 71 cases. Last year the figure was 158, including 57 of sex abuse and the remainder of physical assault. Police have investigated 396 criminal abuse allegations against union members since January 1991. In 376 cases no grounds were found for prosecution.

Chris Keates, an executive member, told the conference: 'Child abuse is abhorrent. We do not seek to protect child abusers but we do need to protect teachers who have their lives shattered by pupils. There is now a climate in society where a comforting hand on the shoulder, physical assistance in gymnastics or the administration of medicine can generate claims of physical abuse.'

Ian Crossland, from Walsall in the West Midlands, said that children's use of their 'street knowledge' was frightening. 'They say 'if you try to make me do that I will say you have touched my bum'. It is an incredible piece of power that streetwise children have picked up.'

Jack Jackson, a delegate from Leeds, said the received wisdom was that children do not lie. It was voiced by the chair of a disciplinary panel in Leeds when he turned down a teacher's appeal against allegations of indecent assault by three girls.

Mr Jackson said: 'We are not asking for special privileges for teachers, just that they are afforded natural justice.'

Baroness Blatch, Minister of State for Education, said at a Blackpool press conference that the Government was discussing with the union how to make the law work so that both children and teachers were protected.

''Teachers in doing their job must be allowed to touch children. In infant and junior schools, it isn't possible to teach children without touching them.'

Nigel de Gruchy, the union's general secretary, said he suspected that, in practice, lawyers would advise teachers not to sue children who had laid false allegations against them.