Monday, 9 November 2009

A New Direction

“I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.” Douglas Adams (1952-2001)
“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.” Buddhist Proverb

“It’s time we framed every question - every issue - not in terms of what’s in it for ‘me’, but what’s in it for all of us ? And when you ask that simple question - what’s in it for all of us ? - the direction not taken could not be more clear or compelling.” Senator John Kerry (1943-)

For years, unions, politicians and policy makers have been distracted by issues such as ‘suspension’, ‘anonymity’, ‘innocent until proven …’, ‘timescales’ and ‘natural justice’. The same old ‘key’ considerations continue to be debated. Every year, these same considerations are publicly presented, supported by the unions, as fresh and novel initiatives – and the same inhuman process continues.
It is impossible to expect a teacher to return to work whilst their very life hangs in the balance. The stress is unimaginable and it is relentless without escape. (The reason why government wants this issue addressed is not from concern for the teacher – it is one of finance – the costs involved are high – teacher’s salary plus a supply teacher; supported for maybe years !)

In a school, everyone will know, parents, children and other colleagues – it is an impossible goal. I question the import of anonymity – I remained quiet for two years and I now believe that maximum publicity would have been beneficial to me personally.

Innocent until proven …
What does this ideal mean ? It has been banded about since the beginning of time itself. Even though it is the cornerstone of the judicial system, it is not possible to realize. The fact that there’s even been an accusation when you’re innocent is sufficient contradiction; let alone when the police arrest you and you experience the utter humiliation of being treated as a criminal.

Existing government policies define the durations of the process stages; as do ACAS. They are reasonable and understandable – police investigation of about one month followed by maybe another month of investigation by the school / LEA. Why then did it take my school / LEA over 6 months ? In nearly every case, there is an enormous and unexplained delay that contravenes the guidelines. Why has there not been a public inquiry to discover the reasons for this failure rather than a complacent acceptance ?

Natural Justice
There is no justice in a system that is so corrupt and incestuous. With the exception of the police, there is no impartiality. Existing established mechanisms come into play - LEA and governors supporting the head teacher without question; for to do otherwise would damage the credibility of the entire school management system.

(In my case, Lancashire County Council Human Resource managers lied at my appeal hearing. Over several years, I had been bullied by Andrew Kidd, head teacher and I had raised this problem with Vic Welch, HR Manager. These known prejudicial opinions and actions by Andrew Kidd should have denied his involvement - but instead, Lancashire County Council sanctioned and supported his actions.)

Friday, 6 November 2009

Natural Justice

The jury, passing on the prisoner’s life,
May in the sworn twelve have a thief or two
Guiltier than him they try. Measure for Measure (1604)
William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

Barry Sheerman placed emphasis in his objectives to provide a system that would result in ‘natural justice’ for teachers who become subject to an allegation of abuse. Nowhere was the term ‘natural justice’ defined nor its significance :

Natural justice or procedural fairness is a legal philosophy used in British law in the determination of just, or fair, processes in legal proceedings.

In common law legal systems the term natural justice refers to two specific legal principles :

  1. nemo iudex in causa sua : “nobody shall be a judge in his own cause”, invalidating any judgment where there is a bias or conflict of interest or duty; and
  2. audi alteram partem : “hear the other side”, giving at least a fair opportunity to present one’s case (which may, for example, require access to counsel).
With reference to principle 1, this is the source of the problem; there can be no impartiality and therefore no expectation of fairness. The school and LEA are ‘judges in their own cause’. There is clearly ‘bias’ and ‘conflict of interest’ that can not be eliminated.

Duty too; the school and LEA are obligated to the care and safety of children. They must always err on the side of the child and in turn the parents; there is no freedom to do otherwise - sadly, some allegations are well-founded.

Barry Shearman did realize and appreciate the benefits of external investigations - the police, one would like to believe, are the experts; certainly better trained and experienced than a head teacher who is permitted to play the role of Hercule Poirot for months or more !

The fact is that the school and LEA does need to examine the events of any allegation; understanding and reviewing the facts helps to minimize future risks. So it was a forlorn expectation that the investigative process should stop following the police closing the case.

The problem is that some schools and LEAs use this investigatory exercise purely as a ‘witch-hunt’. It is this phase that is unnecessarily protracted and extremely damaging.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Government Response

Allegations Against School Staff:
Government Response to the Committee’s Fifth Report of Session 2008–09

Barry Sheerman, MP, Chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, gave a commitment on Radio 4's File On 4 programme in March, 2009 :

“It is the most damaging, damaging thing that can happen to a human being. Especially when this feeling of injustice, you actually haven’t done anything wrong. Many teachers are being very shabbily treated and I want to get to the bottom of it.”

Initially, I felt some pride to know that I had, in part, been involved with this work. However, I quickly appreciated that this report only reiterates processes and ideals that already are in place or that have been uttered for the last two decades. Much could and should have been looked at to determine why the existing systems continue to fail and destroy so many lives. So far, not even the surface of the problem has been scratched and the bottom of it still lies, undisturbed, many fathoms below.

Unsurprisingly, the unions were quick to extol this ‘new’ report to be a significant step forward :

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, said :

“The Select Committee report marked another important step forward in addressing the vulnerability of teachers to false allegations from pupils.

I am pleased, therefore, that the Government has accepted the main recommendations.

These now need to be implemented as a matter of urgency. Too many teachers are still having their lives and careers blighted by false allegations.”

Investigating abuse by teachers
Monday 21st November 2005 at 00:00

Ruth Kelly has unveiled new guidance for schools and other education establishments, local authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police on arrangements to speed up the process of dealing with allegations of abuse against teachers and support staff.

The guidance spells out standard procedures that will apply in all local authorities in England to replace existing local procedures and ensure cases are dealt with consistently in all areas.

Government Response : Ruth Kelly

Education secretary Ruth Kelly said : “The number of allegations made each year is very small as a proportion of the children and staff in our schools.”

“But it is vital that they are dealt with properly and fairly. We must protect children. Being abused by a trusted adult can have a devastating effect on a child and their future.”

“Equally, I am very much aware of the devastating effect that being wrongly or unfairly accused can have on an individual, their family and career, and how delay and publicity can exacerbate that.”

Stakeholder Response : NASUWT

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said : “I welcome the positive action the government has taken in response to NASUWT's campaign on this important issue. Too many innocent teachers have had their lives and careers wrecked by false allegations of abuse.”

“Teachers and others who work with children are extremely vulnerable to false allegations. NASUWT has campaigned for years for this to be recognised and for an investigative process which takes this into account to be introduced.”

“The guidance represents a significant step forward towards securing more balanced and fair procedures.”

“This guidance will not prevent those who abuse children from being identified and dealt with appropriately. Those who abuse children have no place in schools.”

“It does, however, have the real potential to ensure that those who are falsely accused, and their families, are spared the months and sometimes years of trauma and distress before being exonerated.”

“Teachers will warmly welcome the fact that for the first time there is a clear recognition in guidance that sanctions, including legal procedures, against accusers, should be considered seriously where allegations are found to be malicious.”

“The tightening up and standardisation of the recording of the outcomes of investigations will help to ensure that teachers who have been the victims of false allegations seeking to obtain a job in another school or local authority are not denied employment on the basis of inaccurate information.”

“Although the procedures do not introduce anonymity for teachers up to the point of conviction, the fast-tracking of investigations should reduce significantly the opportunity for public and media exposure which exacerbates the devastating impact of being falsely accused.”

“Case study analysis demonstrated that the longer an investigation took, the more likely it was for confidentiality to be breached.”

“NASUWT has secured a commitment from the government for the introduction of a monitoring procedure to enable regular review and evaluation of the effectiveness of the new guidance with a view to the introduction of further changes if the problems still persist.”

“Regrettably, these procedures only apply in England and so NASUWT will now continue its campaign in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to secure their introduction. False allegations are not confined to England and teachers throughout the UK deserve the same protection.”

Almost exactly 4 years has elapsed. Isn’t Ruth Kelly saying the same as Barry Sheerman is now saying ? And isn’t Chris Keates repeating herself including the same pious NASUWT flag waving ?

A Google search reveals the same old recommendations - often with Chris Keates with her flag. I’m reminded of the film “Groundhog Day” - am I Phil (Bill Murray) ? Am I the only person who realizes that I’m stuck in a loop in time and teachers’ lives continue to be destroyed by the same corrupt processes ?

It is little wonder that government has ignored most of the report’s recommendations ! There was nothing new to consider or implement ... hardly surprising when teachers and victims of the process were not involved !