Northern Ireland

Teachers facing false accusations 'need protection'

Woman with head in hands
Image caption The union wants urgent help because it said innocent teachers are suffering as a result of current policy

Teachers suspended because of malicious allegations by pupils need protection, theUlster Teachers' Unionhas said.

Some teachers are being treated as guilty until found innocent, said Avril Hall-Callaghan, UTU.

The union wants urgent help because it said innocent teachers are suffering as a result of current policy.

The Department of Education has said this is a matter for individual schools.

"Our experience is that the number of spurious allegations is on the increase," said Ms Hall-Callaghan.

"There must be a better way of dealing with this."

The union is concerned that parents are bypassing the schools and going straight to the police and social services which means teachers have to be suspended until proven innocent.

The consequences are extremely serious - loss of pay and being taken off the front line for a period of time, in one case, for as long as two years.

Ms Hall-Callaghan said teachers should be found work which takes them away from the situation, rather than being sent home.

"There are ways of teachers being allowed to remain in school until an internal investigation happens," she said.

"In this way, they do not have the stigma of having been suspended.

After a period of suspension, when a teacher is cleared, it is extremely difficult for them to go back and continue with their career, she said.

"It seems to be that, unlike elsewhere in the judicial system, teachers facing such allegations are guilty until proven innocent, with schools under pressure to suspend them as soon as an allegation is made, even though it could be months before it is resolved.

"While all allegations must be investigated fully, the teacher is offered no protection. In a small community like Northern Ireland rumours circulate and even when a teacher is not found guilty their lives can often be ruined because they've had no opportunity to address the allegation until it gets to the legal stage."

If an allegation is made the child's safety should be paramount but the union wants the presumption of guilt to be removed.

They want parents to go to schools if they have an issue and want schools to take a common sense approach.

In a statement, the Department of Education said it did not employ teachers and such matters were the responsibility of the board of governors of each individual school in consultation, where appropriate, with the relevant employing authority.

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