Industry leaders have condemned new laws due to come into force next week which will ban the identification of teachers accused of abusing their pupils.
A clause in the Education Act 2011 which comes into force on Monday will restrict the reporting of alleged offences by teachers where the complainant is a pupil at the school in which they teach.
It will be an offence for a newspaper to publish anything likely to identify a person as a teacher alleged to have committed a criminal offence against a pupil at the same school, where that allegation has been made by or on behalf of the pupil.
The Society of Editors, which together with the Newspaper Society lobbied hard to prevent the clause becoming law, has condemned its implementation as an attack on freedom of speech.
Executive director Bob Satchwell said: “It will be a criminal offence for anyone – pupil, parent, police, school, local authority, whistle-blower, media – even to inform parents or the general public that an identified teacher has admitted that the allegation is true and has resigned, has been disciplined, or even cautioned for the offence.
“Although we acknowledge teachers’ fears about false accusations, the most important issue is surely to protect children. Malicious allegations by pupils are extremely rare and alongside this the laws of libel, contempt and confidence already restrict newspapers from repeating and publishing unsubstantiated accusations.”
Accoding to the new law, the restriction can only be lifted once the teacher is charged with an offence or if he or she agrees to waive their anonymity.
Added Bob: “By preventing anyone from reporting allegations, the worry is that valid concerns may now be swept under the carpet. Alongside this people may now be convicted for telling the truth.”