Letter: Claims of abuse in the classroom

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The Independent Online
Sir: There is a genuine problem regarding false accusations of sexual abuse by pupils against teachers and the boundaries of appropriate physical contact between teachers and pupils within the school ('Union wants action over pupils' false sex claims', 7 April). While I would not want to diminish the distress that has been caused to some teachers, it is important that we do not allow our emotions to cloud or misrepresent the realities of this situation.

First, there do exist cases where pupils are physically, emotionally or sexually abused by teachers and it is vital that procedures exist for protecting children in such situations. Second, it is wrong for the teaching unions to lay the blame for false accusations at the door of the Children Act, which does not make it any more likely that children will accuse teachers of misconduct.

The way forward for resolving the problem of false accusations lies not in amending the Children Act, but in developing a clear framework for both teachers and pupils which sets out how grievances should be brought and how they will be investigated in a way that is just to all interests.

It is important that the process should be the least adversarial possible so that polarisation of relationships is avoided.

Neither children nor teachers have substantive rights within education and it would be foolish to think that the concerns of teachers could or should be resolved at the expense of child protection. I deeply regret that the interests of teachers are increasingly being pitted against the interests of pupils: the current agenda within education appears to view teachers simultaneously as victims and corruptors and children as both little angels and little devils.

It is not a rational debate and I fear that it signals a deep pessimism within the adult population about the potential of education and of children themselves. Unless the Department for Education urgently takes the lead, the situation will only get worse.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN REA PRICE

Director

National Children's Bureau

London, EC1

7 April

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