Rapid growth and innovation of the technologies we use is a fact of life today. In a world that is becoming more connected and more social, this advancement is having a profound impact on people’s lives – from the way they share to how they learn. Nowhere is this shift clearer than in schools. Social networking can have a productive function in education. When confrontations arise, social networks empower people to raise issues and address them together. The transparency enabled by social media can also create positive social norms that impact kids online and off.
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Friday 16th November 2012
Following recent high-profile news stories of inappropriate relationships between pupils and teachers, legislation relating to teacher anonymity in such cases has been examined with interest. Katie Michelon and Laura Richards, education solicitors at Browne Jacobson, consider the impact of a new legal provision.
What does the law say?
The Coalition made a commitment to giving teachers anonymity when accused by pupils, and to taking other measures to protect against false allegations.
Section 141F of the Education Act 2002, as amended by section 13 of the Education Act 2011, came into force on 1 October 2012. The provision makes it an offence to report or publish any information that could lead to the identification of a teacher who is subject to an allegation of a criminal offence made by, or on behalf of, a registered pupil at the same school.
The information prevented from being published includes name or school where the teacher works, or anything that would help to identify the individual.
Teachers have, therefore, become the first professional group in this country to be given anonymity under law.
What is the rationale behind this new law?
The view is that teachers, as a professional body, are particularly vulnerable to false allegations of abuse or other misconduct. An allegation can have a serious impact on both the private and professional lives of an individual who is involved.
A report by the Department for Education found that almost one-fifth of the allegations levelled against school teachers were considered to be unfounded, causing concern that this provision was needed urgently to protect reputations in those cases where allegations were unfounded or malicious.
While the law was being debated, there was support for the law from a number of bodies, who confirmed that:
- they were happy with the provisions relating to anonymity
they felt that the new provisions would not hinder investigations against allegations of misconduct.
What will it mean in practice?
Any publication of an allegation which falls within the scope of the provision – and which identifies the teacher involved before they are charged with a criminal offence – will be in breach of the reporting restrictions in the act.
Teachers accused of a criminal offence will be automatically entitled to the protection afforded by the legislation.
Anyone who names a teacher at the centre of a criminal allegation could face prosecution or a £5,000 fine.
Are there any limitations within the provisions?
The provisions do have quite a narrow scope.
Only if the pupil is on the roll of the teacher's school
For example, they only apply when a teacher is accused of an offence against a pupil in their school. This means that if the pupil or child is registered on the roll of another school, then there is no protection from identification.
Support staff not covered
Another concern raised by many in the profession is that the law does not offer support staff the same protection. When many support staff spend time working closely with pupils, often on a one-to-one basis, this appears to be an obvious gap in the legislation.
The government has recognised that there are other employees within schools who may also face false allegations, and has committed to review the impact of these provisions in two years.
The problem of gossip and social media
There are also concerns that, despite the law, anonymity will still be difficult to uphold, given the tendency for gossip in the playground and at the school gate, and also the ability for such information to go viral on social media within minutes.
What happens if someone posts on social media?
'Publication' under the legislation will include: 'any speech, writing, relevant programme or other communication in whatever form, which is addressed to the public at large or any section of the public'.
This covers the traditional forms of publication, but is also intended to cover web-based communications.
There have been concerns about the constantly evolving sphere of social media, especially given the previous use of publication of names on Twitter and leaked details of super-injunctions. The provisions of the act are intended to cover postings on websites (and any communication by internet), but will inevitably succumb to the same difficulty in terms of legal enforcement as other information published on sites such as Twitter.
When does the protection on publication cease?
The ban on identification and publication will remain in place unless or until:
A teacher is charged with a criminal offence, a warrant for arrest is issued, or a decision in a discip
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is now available in the Newsletter area (November 2012).
A short awareness film on Child Sexual Exploitation – made by young people for young people.
Following local cases of sexual exploitation the 5 Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) of South East Wales (Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Monmouthshire Newport and Torfaen) decided to commission a short film to raise awareness of the issues of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). The LSCBs recognised that young people are best placed to inform professionals on how to raise awareness of safeguarding messages, so they designed, developed and produced the film.
Click HERE to view (on YouTube).