It is easy to get into difficult situations as a teacher – you lose your self-control for a fraction of a section, you accidentally make an inappropriate comment or you inadvertently make physical contact with a child. Often a minor incident becomes exaggerated when a child reports it to a parent with a grudge who then follows it up vindictively. Worst of all, other staff can sometimes deliberately make a mountain out of molehill to get at a colleague.
I have seen teachers’ lives destroyed by schools suspending them and taking disciplinary action over trivial incidents. I know of one person who was hounded by a local authority for years even after they left the school at which they worked. I have seen teachers suspended for minor incidents, when the DfE guidelines clearly state that suspensions should be a last resort. I have seen the word of naughty and ill-disciplined children taken at face value, and the teacher’s version of events ignored. In the , previously supportive and caring colleagues become sanctimonious and judgemental.
As I see it, the duty of a headteacher is to support his or her staff, as well as the children. I used to have many a difficult conversation with parents when I explained to them that I would always take the word of a teacher or other staff member over a child. I never suspended a member of staff for a minor incident and didn’t convene Governors’ disciplinary panels unless absolutely unavoidable. At the same time, I dealt with malicious allegations by parents and children severely.
It is devastating for a teacher to be suspended. They feel worried, stressed and powerless. They feel that their career is over and their reputation besmirched. Schools, local authorities and MATs need to understand this and give teachers the benefit of the doubt rather than hang them out to dry.
The issue, ultimately, is one or risk. Schools think that if they don’t act decisively against a member of staff who has been accused of wrongdoing, they leave themselves open to censure or, at worst, legal action. However, what they should be doing is following the DfE guidelines which are actually quite fair and reasonable.
Unions also have a part to play. Mostly they are supine and passive, and let the school do all the running. What they should be doing is fighting for their members every step of the way. Most importantly they should not let teachers be suspended for minor incidents.
Schools have a duty of care to their staff and should support them even when they do something wrong, rather than make them feel like criminals. Who in education hasn’t made mistakes – it just that most of us are lucky enough not to have been caught.Follow me on: