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NEU Position Statement. 

The law

The Education Act 2011 introduced reporting restrictions preventing the publication of any material that may lead to the identification of a teacher who has been accused by, or on behalf of, a pupil from the same school.

The reporting restrictions apply until the teacher is charged with an offence or until the Secretary of State, or Education Workforce Council in Wales, publishes information about an investigation or decision in a disciplinary case arising from the allegation.

The reporting restrictions also cease to apply if the teacher waives their right to anonymity by going public, or by giving written consent for another to do so, or if a judge lifts restrictions in response to a request by a third party to do so.

Publication includes “any speech, writing, relevant programme or other communication in whatever form, which is addressed to the public at large or any section of the public”. This means a parent who publishes details of an allegation on social media would breach the reporting restrictions if what was published could lead to the teacher’s identification by members of the public.

Breach of reporting restrictions is a crime, punishable by a fine of up to £5000.

Shortcomings in the law

An obvious shortcoming in legislation is the omission of support staff from protection. Protection does not extend to teaching assistants, caretakers, school ancillary staff etc.

Furthermore, the provisions apply only when a registered pupil has made an allegation of a crime. Allegations of a non-criminal nature that may nevertheless stigmatise and/or damage the reputation of education staff do not attract protection.

Finally, the local and/or national press may seek to exploit loopholes in the legislation by naming the school/college in which the pupil is registered and/or provide only general details about the staff member (e.g., their age and sex). It would be for the staff member to demonstrate that the publication of these details has led or may lead to their identification.

The NEU position

The NEU believes all staff in education should receive the same level of protection. In 2015 the ATL annual conference passed a resolution seeking extended coverage of reporting restrictions to support staff. The resolution was reiterated in a motion to the NEU support staff conference in 2019.

Furthermore, the union wrote in 2017 to the then Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds, seeking a meeting to discuss the lack of parity in treatment between teachers and support staff and to secure a commitment by the Government to better protection for all staff in education, particularly temporary staff, who our surveys indicate are more vulnerable than permanent staff to false allegations of abuse.

In January 2018, Mr Hinds wrote to confirm that “my officials are considering the contents of your letter…”. However, the scope of the reporting restrictions remain unchanged. 

Next steps for members, reps and local officers

We recognize that the shortcomings in legislation make it difficult for school and college leaders to protect the reputation of staff pending the outcome of an internal or external investigation into allegations. There are reasonable steps school leaders may take, however. They include:

  • reminding school staff and governors that they could be held to account for any breaches of confidentiality
  • similarly reminding parents and pupils that circulating details of allegations may be defamatory and, where pupils are concerned, result in pupil discipline
  • appointing an independent investigator if that would reduce the risk of details being circulated (maintained schools in Wales are required to appoint an independent investigator to investigate child protection allegations against school staff)
  • limit suspension pending investigation only to those cases where it is reasonable to do so - school leaders should acknowledge that the act of suspension carries the stigma of guilt, whether it is intended as a neutral act, and therefore the consequences for the person being suspended should be factored into any decision to suspend.

Next steps for NEU policy negotiators

Seek to ensure that the child protection policies of schools and colleges in your area contain a commitment by the employer to treat support staff in the same way they would if allegations of abuse were made against teachers (i.e., warn all pupils, parents and school/college staff not to publicise allegations of abuse either within or outside school/college premises).

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