False allegations destroying teachers' lives - union

Teachers who have allegations made against them by pupils or parents should not automatically be suspended, one of Scotland's leading teaching unions said yesterday.
Picture: PAPicture: PA
Picture: PA

Delegates at the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) 73rd annual congress in Crieff, yesterday voted unanimously for employers to offer a range of support to teachers who they said can be vulnerable to malicious complaints.

The SSTA, which has just under 7,000 members, receives 2-3 calls a week from teachers who have had complaints made against them. Around 25-30 teachers are suspended each year pending investigation.

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Complaints can range from allegations of inappropriate touching, putting a hand out to separte pupils fighting, or making a comment as a joke which is taken out of context.

Sally Shearer, a delegate from East Dunbartonshire, who proposed the motion, said an allegation “can destroy a person’s life and career”.

“There is a culture surrounding allegations that teachers are guilty until proven innocent.

“While teachers are clearly not the only professionals vulneralbe to these allegations, teachers by the very nature of the job are frequently the only adult in the room with pupils.

“I have known of pupils who have ganged up and made spurious allegations. This can have mental and physical consequenced for the teacher involved.”

The union is calling on local authorities not to automatically suspend teachers, to offer physical support and not just telephone calls to those who are sent home and offer assistance if they return to the same school.

The SSTA also want the issue of teachers’ vulnerability to be part of initial teacher training.

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the SSTA, said some teachers could not face returning to the profession after an allegation.

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“If a school believes a complaint is malicious the teacher shouldn’t be suspended. Even if the next day the pupils says ‘I made it up’, the school still goes through the investigation process.

“Teachers can be suspended and not know what the allegation is about until they receive a letter from their employer, sometimes months later.

“This is brutal, especially in a small community where everyone knows what is going on. It can destroy a teacher’s confidence and their own children could be taken from them.

“We also think the youngster should be disciplined for making a false allegations. Otherwise there is nothing to stop them doing it again.”

Mr Searson added: “There are also situations where some head teachers indulge in bullying by suspending teachers in this situation, whereas another teacher in the same situation will have the complaint resolved very quickly and not miss a day at school.