There has been an 86% increase in the number of teachers suspended on full pay in the UK over claims of pupil mistreatment, the BBC has learned.
The Donal McIntyre programme on BBC Radio 5 Live obtained details from Freedom of Information requests to all 204 local authorities in the UK.
Among the 40% of councils responding, the numbers suspensions rose from 168 in 2003-04 to 314 in 2007-08.
Teachers’ unions say there has been a rise in false allegations.
The councils responding said almost £14.5 million was paid out in salaries for those suspended during the same period of time.
But the total cost to taxpayers will be higher when other local authorities are taken into consideration.
The most common reason for suspending a teacher was because of child protection issues, which includes allegations of verbal abuse, unreasonable force against a pupil, indecent assault, downloading child pornography.
Other reasons were misuse of drugs or alcohol, and gross misconduct. The length of suspensions ranged from about a week to, in one case in Leicester, more than four years.
Teaching unions have been expressing concern for some time about growing numbers of false allegations made against teachers by pupils or their parents.
Some allegations have been coupled with compensation claims made against local authorities. “There’s a worrying trend of parents not going to the head teacher, but instead heading straight to the police,” says Sharon Liburd, a solicitor for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
“Parents automatically believe the child and often the facts are embellished. They go to the police to create the maximum amount of hurt to the school.”
Employers say suspending a teacher is a “neutral” act and does not imply any guilt.
But Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he believed suspending a teacher was more extreme than that.
“It is not a neutral act and doesn’t feel like a neutral act,” he said.
“Especially when a teacher is suspended as a result of false or malicious allegations. Something like that can badly affect a teacher’s career and their whole life.”
The numbers of teachers suspended appeared to vary considerably from one local authority to another.
In Essex, 80 teachers have been suspended during the last five years, whereas other areas, like Camden, according to their records, no teachers have been suspended.
The Freedom of Information research did not reveal how many allegations against teachers were upheld.
In total there are 537,000 teachers in the UK, so only a tiny minority – fewer than 0.1% get suspended.
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The Donal MacIntyre show, Sunday at 19:00 (BST) on BBC Radio 5 Live or download the programme podcast from the Radio 5 Live website.
Employers frequently state that suspension is a neutral act and does not imply guilt. This is what the High Court had to say about the issue.
“The employer also argued that a suspension was qualitively different from a dismissal, but the Court of Appeal disagreed. Suspension is not a neutral act. It changes the status quo from work to no work and inevitably casts a shadow over the employee’s competence. Therefore, suspension and dismissal are capable of being a breach of contract, depending on the facts.”
Mezey v South West London & St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust , EWHC 62