Legal Expertise looks at the management of an allegation of harmful behaviour made by a child against a member of staffEducation Questions and Answers

Where can I find the latest guidance on how to handle allegations against staff?

The guidance is in chapter 5 of Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education, published by the DfES (as it then was). The guidance came into effect on 1 January 2007, although it largely restates previous guidance. A copy can be downloaded from either www.everychildmatters.gov.uk or www.teachernet.gov.uk/publications.

In summary, what does the guidance cover?

It sets out a recommended procedure for handling allegations so that the welfare of children is protected. It does not deal with any internal disciplinary proceedings against a member of staff.

Is this guidance mandatory?

Every educational establishment must be aware of this guidance. Slavish adherence to every line is not required, but any departure from the recommended procedure needs to be justified. Such issues may be picked up on inspections.

What types of allegation are caught by the guidance?

The guidance covers all allegations that a member of staff has:

a.    Behaved in a way that has harmed a child, or may have harmed a child;

b.    Possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child;

c.    Behaved in a way that indicates that s/he is unsuitable to work with children.

It is important to note that there is no threshold for the severity or the credibility of the allegation. If the allegation falls into one of these three categories, even though it appears either very minor, or untrue, it should be handled according to the recommended procedure.

If an allegation is made to a member of staff, what should happen next?

Two steps need to be taken immediately. First, the staff member should make a note of the allegation, as comprehensive as possible, with verbatim quotes if possible. Secondly, the staff member should tell the headteacher, and no one else. Allegations are sensitive, and only people who need to know should be told. The head must be involved because certain decisions that can only be taken by the head (such as suspension) may need to be considered. The child protection officer, if someone other than the head, should not be told at this early stage of the allegation simply because of their child protection responsibilities.

What should the headteacher do next?

On the same day, the head must contact the local authority designated officer (LADO). Every local authority must have such an individual (who possibly leads a designated team), who has responsibility for working with all educational establishments within the authority area on these allegations. This obligation applies to all educational establishments, whether maintained or independent. Together the head and the LADO need to:

a.    Confirm details of the allegation;

b.    Establish that it is not patently false

c.    Decide what, if anything, to tell the staff member who is the subject of the allegation, and also the family of the alleged victim

d.    Decide whether to involve social care or the police

e.    Decide whether formal disciplinary action is needed?

f.    Decide whether to suspend.

When should social services become involved?

If it seems that the child has suffered or is suffering significant harm, or is likely to do so.

When should the police become involved?

If it seems a criminal offence might have been committed. At what stage should disciplinary action be taken?

Usually this waits until social care and the police (if they are involved) finish their investigation. Hopefully the information to hand by then will enable the head, the LADO and the chair of governors to decide whether to dismiss summarily, or to take disciplinary action, or to take no action. If not, they have two weeks to carry out further investigations. Of they do decide to take disciplinary action, the hearing should be within three weeks.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2008

About the author: Chris Webb-Jenkins is author of this week’s issue. Chris joined Browne Jacobson in 1996 and became partner in 2001. He is based at the firm’s Nottingham office and specialises in personal injury, social services, education and local government. Chris acts for education and care providers in the public, private and voluntary sectors, and their insurers.

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