This page also sets out some guidelines for avoiding circumstances that could lead to misunderstanding or expose you to the risk of false allegations of impropriety. Other sections of this website offer advice about misconduct and disciplinary procedures.
It is unrealistic for teachers or lecturers always to avoid being alone with students. In some situations (such as music lessons, for example) one-to-one teaching is entirely normal. However, teachers (and most particularly male teachers) should be very careful not to make themselves vulnerable to accusations of impropriety. If one-to-one lessons/meetings are being legitimately arranged it is wise to be mindful of some precautions wherever possible:
- notify colleagues (or, where appropriate, the pupil's parents) about the lesson in advance
- avoid locations for the lesson which could appear clandestine, such as remote areas, closed or locked doors and rooms without windows
- talk to the pupil with a desk between you, or otherwise arrange the environment to avoid any unnecessary physical contact
- avoid physical contact unless it is strictly necessary and if it is, or becomes, necessary, studiously avoid any contact which could be (mis)construed as sexual
- if a pupil in a one-to-one lesson becomes emotional (for example, is distressed and cries on your shoulder) report this promptly and discreetly to a senior colleague.
Further guidance can be found in our factsheet One to ones and lone working in an education setting.
Physical contact - some guidelines
Be cautious when comforting a distressed student with physical contact. If comforting is necessary (if a child is crying uncontrollably, for example) then comfort them until their immediate needs are met, and then cease as soon as they are calm. Physical comfort should not be given in private and it is generally considered appropriate only for younger children.
Always avoid any contact with a pupil/student which could be misconstrued, or cause offence. It is wise to consider the following factors in these situations:
- the student's gender, age and ethnicity
- the nature of the distress and her/his needs
- the physical environment - including the proximity of other students and adults.
The DfE has issued guidance on the use of restraint - Use of reasonable force: advice for headteachers, staff and governing bodies. A major concern for ATL in situations involving the use of reasonable force to control or restrain pupils is the possibility of an allegation being made. Such allegations can soon escalate, resulting in the involvement of other agencies, including social services and the police.
It is essential that members and their school representatives ensure that:
- there is a clear policy in place in schools with regard to the use of restraint (such a policy should be devised following consultation with governors, staff including recognised trade unions, pupils and those with parental responsibility)
- members receive training in restraint
- members have a full understanding of the policy at their place of work and that they follow the policy when they do have to use reasonable force to control or restrain pupils.
Legal action after a false allegation
If you have been wrongly accused of misconduct by, say, a parent and have had to face suspension or police investigation before your name is cleared, you may be tempted to begin legal proceedings for defamation. ATL believes this action would be unwise, both for legal and professional reasons.
Legally, a parent who makes a complaint privately in good faith to the appropriate authority (such as the headteacher) has a full defence, known as 'qualified privilege' - even if the allegation is, in fact, untrue. The law protects complainants, provided they do not publicise the allegations and provided their motive is not malicious (made in the knowledge that the complaint is false and with direct intent to cause damage.) Professionally, it may also be unwise to bring defamation proceedings, since the effect is often to broadcast the damaging allegations even further. Defamation actions are notoriously protracted, expensive and uncertain in outcome.
Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and enhanced disclosures
Enhanced disclosures from the DBS (formerly the Criminal Records Bureau) - the check most teachers will undergo on applying for a new job - can include information about local police investigations, even if they have not resulted in a prosecution or caution.
This could include a record of a police investigation into a false allegation. This information may well have a detrimental effect on a person's ability to secure alternative employment. However, unless the information is factually incorrect, it is extremely difficult to get it deleted.
Any member that believes information contained in a CRB record is factually incorrect should contact ATL.
It will be argued by the police that the decision to disclose details of their investigation is based on their belief that the information is relevant to the assessment of a person's suitability to work with children or vulnerable adults.