What does the term ‘abuse’ mean?
According to the Department for Education (DfE) guidance, an allegation of abuse generally means that the member of staff has allegedly:
- behaved in a way that has harmed, or may have harmed, a child or young person
- possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child or young person
- behaved towards a child or young person in a way that indicates that they are is unsuitable to work with them.
What should I do if an allegation is made against me?
You should report the matter to your head teacher/principal and provide a full written account of the incident. Let your head teacher/principal know if there were any witnesses, either in the classroom or the corridor, who may have seen and/or heard what happened. You should also contact either your local NEU representative or the union’s AdviceLine for advice on your position.
All schools and colleges should have clear written procedures in place for dealing with allegations of abuse. A copy of these is likely to be in a staff handbook. The procedures should identify the person to whom reports ought to be made in the absence of the head teacher/principal, which is likely to be the designated safeguarding lead. The chair of governors will be the responsible person if the allegation involves the head teacher/principal.
Serious allegations would lead to investigations by both your employer and the police. Additionally, some cases may require immediate investigation by children’s (social) services.
Internal investigations may, depending on the conclusions of the head teacher/principal, recommend a move to disciplinary procedures. If so, NEU members have the right to be accompanied by either a trade union rep or work colleague to any related meetings with management. The NEU will always seek to postpone any internal disciplinary until, at the very least, after the police have completed their investigations.
Depending on the seriousness of a case, the outcome of an investigation into an allegation may have to be notified to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) with a view to a decision being made on whether an individual can continue to work with children.
For teachers, where they work will dictate to whom they may be reported.
In England, the Teachers Regulation Agency (TRA) has the power to recommend that the Secretary of State prohibits a teacher from teaching either for a set number of years or indefinitely.
In Wales, cases of teacher misconduct are heard by the Education Workforce Council which can issue a reprimand, a conditional registration order, a suspension order or a prohibition order.
The General Teaching Council (Scotland) can issue a reprimand, a conditional registration order or remove the teacher from the register.
The General Teaching Council (Northern Ireland) can remove a teacher from the register.
If an investigatory meeting is held, this will not by itself result in any disciplinary action and there is no statutory right for an employee to be accompanied to such a meeting. It is considered good practice to allow an employee to be accompanied and many employers’ procedures will allow, and indeed encourage, representation at this stage. NEU members are advised to request that a union rep accompany them.
If the investigation results in a disciplinary hearing, employees have a statutory right to be represented.
Do not be alarmed if the police contact you to provide them with a statement. This is standard practice as the police are obliged to investigate allegations of abuse against pupils.
If you are contacted by the police to attend an interview, you should ask for the name of the investigating officer, as well as the date, time and location of where you are expected to attend. You should pass this information to the NEU as a matter of urgency. The NEU provides criminal legal advice and support to individuals who are members at the time when an incident is alleged to have occurred, have remained in membership, and provided it is in relation to their employment and not their private life.
It is rare for the police to ask you to attend an interview at short notice. If this happened you should ask for an alternative date, or ask for the duty solicitor who will advise you free of charge.
The DfE guidance states that a quick resolution should be the priority with unnecessary delays avoided. In some cases, follow-on enquiries may be needed, e.g., with the police and/or social services, before deciding how the case should proceed.
In some cases, for example if it is considered that there is a risk of harm to a child/young person, a school or college may consider suspending the staff member until the case is resolved. The DfE guidance states that staff suspension should not be the default option; an individual should only be suspended if there is no reasonable alternative option.
The DfE guidance states that social contact with colleagues and friends must not be prevented unless there is evidence to suggest that such contact is likely to be prejudicial to the gathering and presentation of evidence.
The school or college should consider appropriate action in line with its behaviour policies. This could include temporary or permanent exclusion and even a referral to the police if the school believes a criminal offence may have been committed.
Employers have a duty of care to their employees. Accordingly, they should provide effective support for anyone facing an allegation, including a named contact to keep them informed of progress with the case.
Where it is decided an individual who has been suspended can return to work – either because the allegation has been proved unfounded or after a disciplinary hearing – the school/college should consider how best to facilitate this. This could include a phased return to work and/or provision of a mentor to provide assistance and support in the short term.
There must also be consideration as to how to manage the individual’s contact with the pupil/student who has made the allegation, if they are still attending the school or college.
The DfE guidance states that allegations found to be false or malicious should be removed from personnel records.