By Hilary White

LONDON, October 9, 2008 ( – The largest UK teachers’ union wants the government to decriminalise sex with students who are over the legal age of consent. Chris Keates, the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), said that teachers who have sex with pupils over the age of consent should not be placed on the sex offenders register. Keates called prosecution for statutory rape “a real anomaly in the law that we are concerned about.”

NASUWT complained that media reports had misrepresented their position. “To describe the NASUWT’s comments on this as ‘teachers want the right to bed pupils’ as one report has done, simply for pointing out an anomaly which criminalises a teacher but would leave any other adult free from prosecution for the same type of relationship, is a travesty.”

Gregory Carlin, however, a child protection activist and head of the Irish Anti-Trafficking Coalition, said that such ideas were another sign of the erosion of legal protections for young people against exploitation.

“If the NASUWT philosophy has its day,” he said, “exploiting a 16 year old in a brothel would carry no extra penalty.” Under the same logic, he said, “Jail guards would be able to take their pick from their charges and foster parents would be spared prosecution for having sex with foster children.”

In an official statement dated October 6th, Keates said, “From the time the Sexual Offences legislation was first drafted in 2001 the NASUWT consistently raised the significant anomaly within its provisions. A teacher having a consensual relationship with a pupil over the age of 16 on the roll of the school in which they teach is liable under the Act to prosecution and being placed on the sex offenders register.

“However, if the same teacher has a consensual relationship with a young person of the same age who attends another school they would not be prosecuted or classed as sex offenders.”

Carlin told that Keates “knows what she was asking for,” which is simply to “legalise sex crimes.”

List 99 is a secret register of men and women who are barred from working with children by the Department of Education and Skills. Carlin said, “Thousands of teachers are referred to List 99 each year, most of them from the NASUWT. In fact, the referrals doubled between 2003 and 2005.”