Teachers Defence ServiceFalse Allegations Against Teachers
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How to Challenge False Allegations
Teachers Defence Service represents teachers in regulatory cases in local resolution procedures (dealing with complaints at schools and other educational establishments) and at the GTCS Scotland, TRA England, GTCNI Northern Ireland, EWC Wales, where professional conduct investigations are undertaken. We have written a number of articles to assist teachers an lecturers in understanding the complaints and regulatory processses that they might face. Call us without obligation for more details of our services and our fees.
False Allegations Against Teachers
When a teacher is informed that they have been accused of acting unprofessionally it can be devastating. More so when they have not done what is alleged.
For those who admit that they have acted unprofessionally they will need to take steps to to show that they will not repeat their conduct. See our guidance on showing insight in such instances, which is relevant to both employment level concerns and concerns that are referred to UK regulators.
This article focusses on situations where a teacher wholly denies a false accusation, or where only partial admissions are to be made. Note that where poor conduct is admitted, it should be done so with great care, and some of the points below may still be relevant. We recommend that teachers take advice before making admissions. Teachers should not make statements or admissions while under pressure.
Regrettably, in teaching, children, young people or their parents or guardians do make false accusations for a whole host of reasosn. The motives may be based on musinderstandings but there are also many cases where an allegation is wholly untrue.
An Example of a False Allegation
A few years ago, we represented a teacher who was sacked by their employer and referred to a regulator. The teacher was sacked from the school prior to our involvement.
It was alleged that the teacher had helped students to cheat in advance of taking an exam, by having advance disclosure of the exam questions and being taken through the model answers. The only witnesses were students. The teacher wholly denied the allegations and we put the regulator to strict proof. The school has taken statements from students which suggested to the regulator that there was a prima facie case to answer, despite many discrepancies and inconsistencies in the evidence.
The teacher was so depressed during the period of investigation that they wanted to leave the profession altogether, but we supported them and encouraged them to work with us, and later they thanked us for beliving in them.
We corresponded with the regulator and insisted that all of the witnesses be called to give evidence. We pointed out that any student who gave evidence that they had been helped would likely see their exam results quashed. Eventually, there was no case that could be prosecuted and the case was discontinued. The teacher remains in teaching to this day. The teacher could not understand why students would turn on them. The teacher maintained throughout that the allegation was utterly false. This example demonstrates that through tactical defence, cases can fall apart, in the teacher’s favour.
UK Parliamentary Paper into false allegations against teachers (2008-2009 Report Number: HC 695)
An emerging trend that had been identified in the 2009 report was the use by students of social media to make false and malicious, anonymous complaints about teachers. This was of great concern then, and remains so now.
‘Rogue teachers’ were also identified as instigating false allegations against staff members, particularly those in management roles. One teacher, who gave evidence to the inquiry of a very unpleasant series of false allegations (which is worthwhile reading), asked that lessons be learned. He submitted (at page EV56 of the paper) that those tasked with investigating allegations should:
1.Take account of the integrity of the witnesses. When taking evidence from witnesses, adults or children, account must be taken of the integrity of the witnesses.
2. It must be recognised that in our modern society it can no longer be assumed that people will tell the truth. It will take great discernment to recognise when people are lying.
The House of Commons paper recommended (page 39):
“We believe that school staff subject to allegations should be treated according to acknowledged principles of justice and that a person accused of wrongdoing should be seen as innocent until proven guilty. The aim should always be to deal with allegations speedily, effectively and justly, to minimise the cost and the impact upon those accused.”
Regrettably, this does not always happen. There is often a failure by those investigating a complaint to bear in mind that some allegations are false and malicious. Sometimes a local adgenda will cause bias to an investigation, and the teacher must therefore tread with great care when responding to allegations. On occasions a teacher will be suspended or excluded and prevented form speaking to their colleagues, which will feel like a particularly bitter blow.
Independent lawyers like us can seek to make a difference and hold schools and other educational establishments to account, demanding that they provide a fair process of investigation, that is time-bound and effective. This starts at school level and then also progresses to the regulatory stages. For more information on the way the regulators investigate allegations: Select your Regulator.
The best defence starts at the very beginning, when an allegation is made. We can work with teachers and their local representatives, their unions and others to provide an effective defence to false and malicious allegations made against teachers.
Teachers facing false allegations should:
- keep good contemporaneous records of all steps taken;
- beware of having any oral discussion without a witness who is taking detailed notes;
- ask for meetings to be recorded;
- where the police are involved, be represented by a lawyer at any police interview (see our article on police investigations and criminal justice prosecutions);
- where there is a safeguarding investigation, ensure that you are accompanied by an appropriate witness or representative, who can keep good notes
- be careful that anything said could be used against the teacher, especially anything that appears to be inconsistent;
- be careful about so called ‘off the record’ chats as they may come back to ‘bite’ the teacher’
- note down the defence and mitigation details as soon as the allegation is made, identifying any potential witnesses;
- ask for any documentation relevant to the investigation to be preserved (detail the specific electronic and paper documents);
- request written details of any allegation and prompt disclosure of any witness evidence;
- ask for copies of policies under which the investigation is being carried out;
- ask for copies of any policies that are said to have been breached (for example: safeguarding, data protection, standards, restraint, personal conduct);
- ensure that any statements provided by defence witnesses (whether of fact or character) are obtain in a manner whereby the teacher cannot be criticised for influencing the witness (it is better to ask a third-party who has no personal interest in the outcome to take statements, such as a lawyer);
- instruct an expert to provide an opinion on matters where expert opinion is justified, this might be a teaching consultant or another professional;
- compile a timeline of events (a chronology, with an indexed bundle of statements and exhibits);
- request disclosure from third-parties who hodl documentation or data that undermines the case against the teacher or supports their case;
- insist that witnesses are called to prove the case, and that anonymity be lifted where it is necessary to explore the credibility of the witness;
- insist on a fair process and raise a grievance or complaint where a fair procedure has not been adopted;
- attend the local or regulatory hearing, fully prepared;
- be represented and have a good note taken of what is said;
- complain or appeal if the process outcome is unfavourable.
- be represented and advised by competent representatives throughout.
The above list is not exhaustive and may not apply to every complaint.
Give us a call on 020 3012 0402 without obligation and in strict confidence to see how we can assist you, if you are facing a false allegation or other matter relating to teaching. Or use our Contact Form.
See also Our Other Services page for further information about the legal support we provide to teachers.
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