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Teacher suspension cases reveal `worrying' aspect of system

 Millions of pounds has been spent on salaries and pensions of teachers suspended from schools in the last five years

A PROMINENT member of a public spending watchdog has written to the education minister raising concerns about a "worrying" approach to teacher suspensions.

Millions of pounds has been spent on salaries and pensions of teachers suspended from schools in the last five years.

Almost every teacher who was removed from the classroom was later reinstated after being investigated and cleared - just six were sacked.

The Irish News previously reported that it cost £4.2 million to pay suspended teachers. In addition, more than £936,000 was spent by schools on providing cover for suspended staff.

A total of 16 teachers, suspended from school on full-pay, remained out of the classroom for more than a year.

At a time when school services are being cut due to budget pressures, John Dallat of the SDLP, a member of Stormont's Public Accounts Committee, has criticised such lengthy suspensions as a "scandalous waste".

Mr Dallat has now written to minister John O'Dowd to highlight his concerns. He told the minister that cases that had come to his attention revealed "a particularly worrying and unsavoury aspect of our educational system".

Mr Dallat said precautionary suspensions should be reviewed monthly.

"I am aware of a precautionary suspension which has lasted for over two years. In another case, a teacher was placed on precautionary suspension for three years. This would mean that in the former case (where no allegations of child abuse were ever made) reviews should haven taken place no fewer than 24 times and in the latter case no fewer than 36 reviews should have occurred," he wrote.

"I am also aware that the teacher placed on precautionary for over two years was not informed of these reviews. Is this acceptable to you given that the procedure states "precautionary suspensions can have far reaching implications, not only for the member of staff involved, but also for his/her family, for other children at the educational establishment, their parents and for members of staff"?

Mr Dallat added that precautionary suspensions could cause significant distress compounded when the teacher was forbidden to contact anyone except an `agreed person'.

"I am aware of a case where a teacher (no child protection issues are at stake) has been prevented, from contacting his friends and colleagues. He is wary of even sending Christmas cards to his colleagues in case he is found in breach of the conditions placed on him and faces the daunting prospect of even more disciplinary action," he wrote.

The NASUWT, the largest teachers' union in Northern Ireland, has already criticised what it called the unaccountable precautionary suspension mechanism for classroom staff.

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