The innocent teachers need our protection

Warr Zone with Simon Warr

AS from this week, a teacher who faces an allegation from a pupil, or pupils, in his or her school has the right to anonymity until the Crown Prosecution Service decides whether there is a case to answer and the teacher is formally charged.

Up until now the accused would have had his or her name splashed across the local press as soon as an allegation was made and would have had to endure the commensurate problems – the possible destruction of both career and confidence, not to mention the devastating knock-on effects upon family and close friends.

With the increasing number of malicious lies destroying teachers’ careers, in some cases lives, something had to be done and Clause 13 of this new legislation will go some way to helping out those in the profession.

Needless to say, there has been opposition to the new law: “dangerous precedents being set”, “gross inhibition of freedom of speech”, “gagging the media” etc.

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Indeed, last weekend I was a guest on BBC TV’s Sunday Morning Live, up against journalists Rosie Millard and Stephen Glover, who were making these very points.

My argument was that teachers are in a unique position and should be afforded initial anonymity – as well as imparting knowledge, they also have a constant daily disciplinary role, which brings them into pretty regular conflict with certain pupils.

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Nowadays, children are far more confident about their rights and we’re all aware of the common phrase uttered by a small number: “Do that and I’ll report you”.

There is no doubt that the threat of an allegation being made hampers some teachers up and down the country in their approach to daily disciplinary duties.

To ensure the protection of pupils is not jeopardised, the new law permits an immediate lifting of the anonymity, if the police request it and a magistrate feels this course is in the interests of justice.

After the TV debate, I am glad to state that 80% of the BBC 1 voting public agreed with my point of view.

There is an understanding in this country that one is innocent until proven guilty.

This new law would not mean that an allegation by a pupil would be ignored but that, in the first instance, there would be no publicity until further down the line, when, or if, a charge were brought. Of course, from the outset, a full investigation would still be undertaken, with no proverbial stone being left unturned.

Many top graduates are shunning the idea of a teaching career partly because of a feeling of vulnerability in the presence of teenagers who are well aware of their rights and of their teachers’ restrictions.

This new Education Act amendment might go some way to allay some of their fears.

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