Allegations of abuse from pupils


Receiving an allegation from a pupil and facing an impending investigation can be a distressing time when teaching. Your school should ensure it provides effective support, conducts a fair investigation and provide you with a named member of staff if you are suspended from work.

If you are an Edapt subscriber and you have received an allegation of abuse from a pupil we recommend contacting us as soon as possible with the details of the alleged incident. You will want to refer to your school’s handbook and relevant policies for the procedures to follow.

We have also published another article which outlines your employment rights when suspended from school.

In this article, we look at guidance from the Department for Education (DfE), what steps to take after an incident and strategies which could support your wellbeing when facing an allegation.

Allegations of abuse: guidance from the DfE

Guidance on allegations of abuse against teaching staff is outlined in the DfE’s Keeping Children Safe in Education document.

It explains it is essential that any allegation of abuse made against a member of staff is dealt with quickly, in a fair and consistent way that provides effective protection for the child and, at the same time supports the person who is the subject of the allegation.

The DfE defines allegations of abuse as follows:

  • Behaved in a way that has harmed a child, or may have harmed a child
  • Possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child
  • Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates he or she may pose a risk of harm to children

Examples of allegations can include:

  • Child neglect (leaving a child unattended)
  • Not following due process (for example, not documenting details of child protection concerns)
  • Physically inappropriate behaviour
  • An inappropriate relationship with a pupil
  • Use of language when frustrated or angry with pupils

What should I do when an allegation has been made?

You should notify your line manager and headteacher and write down an account of the incident. You will want to include details such as timings, any witnesses, your positioning in the classroom and what was allegedly said or done. Your school should have a policy on dealing with allegations of abuse so you will want to make sure you are following correct procedures.

Allegations often result in immediate suspension pending an investigation, and you may be given very little information about what the allegation is or how long the investigation process may take.

An initial assessment of the facts should be made and witnesses sought. The local authority could also be involved and their contact information needs to be made available to all parties.

The Designated Officer at your school (formerly known as the LADO) manages and oversees allegations against adults who work and volunteer with children.

The designated officer will:

  • Provide advice and guidance to employers
  • Liaise with the police and other agencies (depending on the severity of the case)
  • Monitor the progress of cases

Some rare allegations will be so serious they require immediate intervention by children’s social services and/or police. The designated officer should be informed of all allegations that come to a school’s attention and appear so they can consult police and children’s social care as appropriate.

After the investigation one of the following judgements should be made regarding the allegation:

  • Substantiated: there is sufficient evidence to prove the allegation
  • Malicious: there is sufficient evidence to disprove the allegation and there has been a deliberate act to deceive
  • False: there is sufficient evidence to disprove the allegation
  • Unsubstantiated: there is insufficient evidence to either prove or disprove the allegation. The term, therefore, does not imply guilt or innocence
  • Unfounded: to reflect cases where there is no evidence or proper basis which supports the allegation being made

Your school may decide to instigate its disciplinary procedures, if after investigation, there is a case to be heard. We have published another article which outlines the disciplinary process in schools. 

We have also published another article which looks at what constitutes as gross misconduct. 

In some cases you might also be referred to the Teaching and Regulation Agency (TRA) if you teach in England or the Education Workforce Council if you teach in Wales.

What can happen if the allegation is false?

The DfE explains that if an allegation is determined to be unsubstantiated or malicious, the designated officer should refer the matter to the children’s social care services to determine whether the child concerned is in need of services, or may have been abused by someone else.

If an allegation is shown to be deliberately invented or malicious, the headteacher, should consider whether any disciplinary action is appropriate against the pupil or student who made it; or whether the police should be asked to consider if action might be appropriate against the person responsible, even if he or she were not a pupil or student. 

Support for wellbeing when dealing with an allegation

Education Support provide additional support in coping with allegations. Amongst other advice, they advocate the use of the following strategies when dealing with an allegation:

Maintain perspective: It’s important to regard the allegation as a problem to work through, not a matter of life and death (though it may feel like it). Write a gratitude list every day to remind you of the things you appreciate beyond your job (on difficult days, this could be as basic as having a warm bed to sleep in)

Gain control: Focus on what you can do and let go of the rest. Keep things simple. Avoid projecting and imagining an uncertain future. Keep to the facts. Though tempting, avoid searching online for similar stories. Reading about people whose circumstances are not the same as yours can increase fear and anxiety

Be proactive: Avoid sitting for long periods thinking things over. Do something positive. This could be as simple as clearing out your clutter or polishing your shoes. The allegation can leave you feeling bad about yourself and taking positive action can be an antidote to that negativity by creating a sense of productivity and achievement.

Use positive self-talk: Remember that all things pass and this situation will be resolved one way or another. Positive self-talk and affirmations are important to carry you through. When you find yourself thinking negatively about how you are coping or how you will survive this, ask yourself ‘how does this serve me?’ If those thoughts are not helping, replace them with more positive alternatives, such as ‘this is difficult right now, but it will pass and I will survive.’

Education Support has a 24/7 support line if you need to take to another person about your mental well-being if facing an allegation.

Will the allegation be confidential?

The DfE explains it is extremely important that when an allegation is made, the school makes every effort to maintain confidentiality and guard against unwanted publicly while an allegation is being investigated or considered.

The legislation imposing restrictions makes clear that “publication” of material that may lead to the identification of the teacher who is the subject of the allegation is prohibited. “Publication” includes “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 means that a parent who, for example, published details of the allegation on a social networking site would be in breach of the reporting restrictions (if what was published could lead to the identification of the teacher by members of the public). 

Can an allegation have an impact on my reference?

The DfE explains cases in which an allegation was proven to be false, unsubstantiated or malicious should not be included in employer references. A history of repeated concerns or allegations which have all been found to be false, unsubstantiated or malicious should also not be included in any reference.

We have published another article which looks at the topic of securing a reference from your school.

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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
While Edapt has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence. If you are an Edapt subscriber with an employment-related issue, please contact us and we will be able to refer you to one of our caseworkers.