AddThis SmartLayers

Could teacher anonymity be the thin end of the wedge?

The Education Act 2011 which was given Royal Assent last week contains a provision restricting the reporting of alleged offences by teachers where the complainant is a pupil at the school in which they teach.

When this Act comes into effect, it will be a criminal offence to publish allegations of this sort against a teacher.

There is a defence available for publishers who can prove that they were unaware either a) that the publication contained reports of such an allegation; or b) that the allegation against the teacher had been made.

The Act also contains protective provisions for service providers who are merely hosting information.

The reporting restrictions will end if the teacher is charged with an offence or if the teacher agrees to waive his/her anonymity.

There will also be a procedure for challenging the restriction on the grounds that it is not in the interests of justice.  However there will be no public interest defence, despite calls having been made urging the inclusion of one, as the Bill proceeded through Parliament.

The new Act has met with strong resistance and provoked great concern amongst the press.  Both The Society of Editors and the Newspaper Society have been vocal in their opposition to the Act and its effect on freedom of speech.

By preventing anyone (including the school itself, parents, pupils etc) from reporting allegations, the fear is that issues may be swept under the carpet and teachers’ behavioural records will become opaque.

Serious questions have been raised as to whether the Act will be expanded or mimicked to apply the same or similar protection of anonymity to other professionals.

As Education Select Committee chair Graham Stuart asked rhetorically: This might be the thin end of the wedge in which we will see a great deal more press censorship and people will not be able to know allegations made against people in their local community.”

The arguments used to justify the reporting restrictions in relation to teachers could be equally relevant to other professions.   If teachers need special treatment, why not all school employees including teaching assistants (not currently covered under the new Act), care-takers and caterers?  Why not social workers and other health workers?

The list of those who could make a case for similar provisions suddenly becomes pretty long.

The ramifications of this Act will be felt most greatly by the regional press, whose raison d’être is to comment on their local communities and highlight any matters which may be of interest or concern to those living in a particular area.  Local education provision is at the forefront of any community.

As a result of this Act, people will no longer be fully aware of what is alleged to be happening within their local schools.

Currently there has been no date set for this Act to come into force.  When that does happen, journalists will have to exercise caution in order to stay within the parameters of the law.

Let’s hope that this does not turn out to be the ‘thin end of the wedge’.


You can follow all replies to this entry through the comments feed.
  • November 25, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    I think you are missing the point of section 13 here.

    Personally I welcome it – I know of two people whose careers have been ended by false allegations – and the complainant in each case (the same girl) has lifetime anonymity, leaving her free to make yet another false allegation in future. And why should it not apply to others apart from teachers? If they are charged (and there is an argument for saying convicted here) events can be reported in full. Innocent until proven guilty?

    Of course, the government is not being benevolent towards teachers – the purpose of s13 is to make teachers more willing to search students (section 2). In reality, any teacher who does search a student wants his head examining – (s)he will receive no support whatsoever from his superiors in the event of a false allegation.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(0)
  • November 29, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    What of a teacher who is struck off by his professional body for sexually inappropriate behaviour with pupils – yet one who has not been charged with any offence?
    Happened here recently….a teacher was found to have committed sexual misbehaviour with pupils by the General Teaching Council and he was struck off,
    However, no charges were laid by the CPS so…..would it even be possible, under the new legislation, to report the GTC findings and the fact that he is banned from teaching?

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(0)