Northern Ireland written question – answered on 4th April 2005.
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what arrangements the South Eastern Education and Library Board made to educate a child at a private school as a consequence of a false sexual abuse allegation by the pupil against a teacher; whether a grant was paid to (a) the family and (b) a school; what the consequences were for the teacher who was falsely accused; whether the Department of Education or the Board have taken steps to rehabilitate the teacher; whether he will be paid compensation; and if he will make a statement.
In the case to which the hon. Member refers, the teacher concerned pleaded guilty to assault of a pupil but not, I understand, a sexual assault. I am told by the South Eastern Education Board that, having considered a range of options and looked at what was in the best interests of the child, the decision was taken to secure a place in a privately operated school. The Board is paying the fees for the pupil's attendance at the school.
While the teacher will not receive compensation, I can assure the hon. Member that his rehabilitation was a major consideration and that the Terms of Settlement of this dispute contain a section relating specifically to the teacher and his needs.
As a matter of principle I acknowledge the need to protect teachers from false allegations made against them. While we must of course listen to children and give primacy to their needs and welfare, the position of teachers also needs to be given due consideration in any investigative process. I am very much aware of the hugely damaging and lasting effect that false allegations can have on a teacher's professional and personal life. Our procedures must recognise teachers' rights to be heard, and to be protected against false allegations.
In the coming months my Department will be undertaking a review of the way precautionary suspensions currently operate, with the aim of issuing fresh guidance to schools.
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