School staff 'face false claims'
More than one in five school staff have had a false allegation made against them by a pupil, a survey has found.
A further 7% said they have faced untrue claims from a student's parent or family member.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), which conducted the poll, said false allegations are blighting careers and putting added stress onto education workers.
One teacher with 22 years experience told the union that she now feels vulnerable as pupils "twist things that are said", while others said fear of being falsely accused was a key reason they are considering leaving the profession.
The survey found that 22% said they had faced a false allegation made by a pupil and 14.3% had faced claims by a pupil's parent or other family member.
More than a third of those polled (37.7%) said that someone in their current school or college had had an untrue allegation made against them by a student, with a further 22.6% saying a colleague had faced claims from a student's relative.
Of those that said they had faced an allegation at some point, 69.5% said the alleged incident was supposed to have taken place when they were working with a class or group of children, and nearly one in four (24.2%) said it was supposed to have taken place on school or college premises outside of class.
Others said that incidents were alleged to have occurred in places such as in one-to-one sessions in school or college, on a trip, or somewhere unrelated to the school or college environment. Some 2.1% said the alleged incident had taken place on social media.
A state secondary teacher in Worcestershire told ATL: "After 22 years in teaching I feel very vulnerable now, as pupils twist things that are said and make serious comments - they do not see the serious manner of their allegation when in fact it is their behaviour we are challenging."
One Kent primary school teacher said: "The increasing occurrence of allegations is one reason why I will be leaving the profession sooner than I would like to. Poor parental discipline is leading to children always wanting their way.
"Unable to discipline children without a comeback has meant this sort of incident will escalate and very good teachers will be driven out when they are most needed."
And a teacher from the South East said: "My late husband was falsely accused by a child he taught. Though the Crown Prosecution Service held that there was no case to answer, he was a broken man. He returned to work briefly, but had lost his nerve.
"The false accusation of one child, who was in an abusive home situation, wrecked our family life. My husband died of a sudden heart attack in his 50s."
Asked what happened as a result of the most recent allegation they faced, half of those that responded (49.5%) said that the claim had been dismissed, 30.2% said they continued working while it was investigated, 5.7% said they had been suspended and 4.2% had been subject to disciplinary action.
Just over 5% of those questioned said they had been referred to a local safeguarding children's board over an allegation.
In a separate question, 7.5% of the 187 people who responded said that the police had been notified of a claim against them.
David Guiterman, ATL's branch secretary in Cornwall, said: "Even if the allegation is shown to be false it leaves a lasting scar. In a local case a member decided to resign even though the allegation was shown to be false. He did not want to carry on lecturing."
Mr Guiterman is proposing a resolution at ATL's annual conference in Liverpool next week on this issue. The motion calls on the union to investigate whether local safeguarding children's boards are fulfilling their purpose and whether they are doing so in a reasonable time.
ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: "It is only right and proper that children are protected and their welfare and safety must always come first, but the balance needs to be right so that teachers, heads and support staff do not suffer unnecessarily when false allegations are made against them.
"Schools and colleges need to recognise that young people sometimes make up allegations - they may be angry, under stress, suffering problems at home or have a host of other reasons - and take this into account when investigating them.
"All schools and colleges need to have clear, timely and fairly administered policies to investigate allegations against staff. And they need to make sure innocent staff receive the support and protection they need so that their careers and lives are not irretrievably damaged by a false allegation.
"We call on the police and local safeguarding boards to work harder to resolve cases and to protect the rights of education staff. And we call on the Government to change the law to give all education staff the same rights to anonymity until charged - without this, innocent teaching assistants, school librarians and lab technicians as well as assistants, lecturers and managers in further education risk having their lives blighted unnecessarily."
:: The survey questioned 685 members working in schools and colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland between February 19 and March 10.
A Department for Education spokesman said: "We understand the variety of pressures teachers face, which is why through our plan for education we have taken a number of measures to support them.
"We recognise the extreme damage which can be caused to teachers who have false allegations made against them, which is why we have made clear to schools and colleges that staff should be supported throughout, and are able to return to focusing their energies on teaching as swiftly as possible."