Changing policy and practice regarding ‘no-touch’ and similar risk-averse interactions between children, teachers, and other professionals
Submitting InstitutionManchester Metropolitan University
Unit of AssessmentEducation
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Economics: Applied Economics
Studies In Human Society: Sociology
Summary of the impact
This case study reports the impact of a sustained programme of research
by Piper and colleagues (since 2001) investigating `no-touch'
intergenerational interaction in educational, childcare, and sporting
contexts; and identifying unintended damaging consequences. Research
outcomes challenged: guidelines on touch between adults and children in
schools and elsewhere, procedures for vetting, and approaches to
allegations of abuse. Impact was achieved through fostering media,
academic, practitioner, and political interest, resulting in changed
public discourse and governmental policy statements. Such change is
gradual but by 2012 formerly dominant approaches to touch and allegations
of abuse began to be reversed, and mass vetting was considerably reduced.
The research has had a unique impact, which continues.
This sustained initiative of empirical research and conceptual
clarification explored and problematised touch between children and adult
professionals and volunteers acting in loco parentis. Outcomes
demonstrated the misguided and damaging effects of contemporary practices
in these areas, treating them as products of moral panic in risk society.
Policy and practices around (not) touching children, (contrary to good
practice in child development) were documented and critiqued. Although
their espoused justification was child protection, they actually focussed
on protecting adults, while placing them (particularly men) in a
vulnerable situation. The consequences included adult anxiety and reduced
effectiveness, increased concern about false allegations, and flawed
responses (eg mass vetting). In both policies on touch and allegations of
abuse, the research identified indefensible policy and practice,
suggesting alternatives based on more appropriate understandings of risk,
professional responsibility, and trust. The core finding, that
misapprehension of risk has produced counterproductive behaviours with
children, challenged current mainstream policy and practice.
Initial pilot research (2001-2002) by Piper and colleagues led to journal
papers (Piper & Smith 2003; Piper, Powell & Smith 2006) and to
ESRC funded research in schools and childcare settings (Piper, MacLure,
Stronach, 2004-2005, RES-000-22-0815). The project report (rated
`outstanding' by ESRC) produced a book (Piper & Stronach 2008),
further papers and wide dissemination. Subsequently, Piper conducted
unfunded research (2008-2009) with Sikes (Sheffield) on false allegation,
also considering the ethics of researching risky topics. A book (Sikes
& Piper 2010) and papers followed, including an edited Special Edition
(International Journal of Research Method in Education 2011). A
second ESRC project (Piper, Garratt [Chester], and Taylor 2010-2011,
RES-000-22-4156) extended the work into PE and sports coaching contexts
and was rated `very good' by ESRC. A further edited Special Edition (Sport
Education & Society 2013) and book are completed. To date this
program of research has generated 2 ESRC reports, 3 books, 5 book
chapters, 2 special editions, 15 refereed papers, and 30+ conference
presentations — and has attracted a full-time studentship to support and
extend the work (Fletcher).
The context for this research is challenging because the topics are
sensitive, contested, and of perennial media interest. Questioning the
assumptions and imperatives of the dominant discourse is unwelcome to
organisations which combine institutional authority, gatekeeping power,
and moral certainty. Nevertheless the research has challenged agencies to
respond, and a modification of policy and practice has begun.
Heather Piper — Appointed RF 1995; SRF 2007; Professor 2009
Hannah Smith — Appointed RA 2003-2005
Maggie MacLure — Appointed Professor 2003
Ian Stronach — Appointed Professor 1995-2008 (changed institutions)
John Powell — Appointed SL 1990-2012 (retired)
Bill Taylor — Appointed SL 1992
Dean Garratt — Appointed RF 1996; (now Professor Chester since 2010)
Pat Sikes — Sheffield (Appointed SL 2000; Professor since 2007)
References to the research
Key research outputs:
• Piper, H. and Smith, H. `Touch in Educational and Child Care Settings:
Dilemmas and Responses', British Educational Research Journal,
(2003) 29 (6) 879-894. Available here
(Significance in UK context indicated by inclusion in R. Parker-Rees
and J. Willan (eds) Early Years Education: Major themes in Education,
.) (Included in previous RAE).
•Piper, H. and Stronach, I. Don't Touch! The educational story of a
panic, (2008) London, Routledge. (Listed in REF2).
`This book is timely and is very aptly titled, even to its punctuation
mark ... This is an extremely well-written book ... I would urge any
educator — academic and practitioner — to take [its] advice ... I
applaud the authors ... for pursuing this topic ... The parallel between
the need for ... freedom to research ... and the freedom to touch makes
this topic even more important to resolve.' Professor Ruth Rees,
Queen's University, Canada, Education Review,
• Stronach, I. and Piper, H. `Can progressive education make a comeback?
The touching example of Summerhill School', American Education
Research Journal, (2008) 45 (1) 6-37. (Listed in REF2).
• Sikes, P. and Piper, H. Researching Sex and Lies in the Classroom:
Allegations of Sexual Misconduct in Schools, (2010) London,
Routledge. (Listed in REF2).
(This book received an International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry
Award). `[and is] a valuable attempt to ... work through the process by
which trusted, responsible adults — can suddenly find themselves barred
from school and forbidden to talk to their colleagues, based on nothing
more than an adolescent's claim that `he touched me' ... Few researchers
are brave or dogged enough to pursue such a sensitive subject area'
Jennie Bristow. Spiked Review of Books,
• Piper, H. Taylor, W. and Garratt, D. `Sports Coaching in Risk Society:
No touch! No Trust!' Sport, Education and Society, (2011) 17 (3)
331-345. Available here
(Listed in REF 2).
• Piper, H. Garratt, D. and Taylor, B. `Child abuse, child protection and
defensive `touch' in PE teaching and sports coaching', Sport,
Education and Society, (2012) 18 (5) 583-598. (Listed in REF2).
An anonymous reviewer stated: `This paper was a compelling read ...
Having read several papers on this issue [abuse], I concur, seldom is
attention directed to how the `problem' is framed, nor to the ways
definitional matters matter! ... In sum, a splendid paper — thank you
for the opportunity to review it.'
Key research grants:
• Piper, MacLure, & Stronach — MMU, "Touchlines: The problematics of
`touching' between children and professionals" ESRC,
RES-000-22-0815, 2004-5, £50K,
• Piper & Garratt — MMU, "Hands-off sports' coaching: the politics of
touch" ESRC, RES-000-22-4156, 2010-11, £100K.
The quality of this work is indicated by a range of indicators
• ESRC ratings of `outstanding' (RES-000-22-0815) and `very good'
(RES-000-22-4156) for the 2 projects integral to this work. ESRC
rapporteur stated: `Recent conversation with policy maker in the
department of education indicate that they are aware of the significance
of this research and I am certain it will play an important role in
policy deliberations' (2013),
• Selected for inclusion Britain in 2013, the annual publication
of the ESRC, `showcasing the research funded by the ESRC through the
contributions of leading academics',
• Expert witness/advisor (Piper) for a number of teachers experiencing
disciplinary or criminal proceedings following false or unwarranted
• Invited expert (Piper) Summerhill School Ofsted Inspection 6-7 November
• The inclusion of papers in highly ranked journals (eg AERJ, BERJ,
SES, IJRME, QI),
• Invited seminars/presentations/symposia (eg 2 ESRC Seminar Series:
`Parenting Cultures' and `Revisiting Moral Panic' (Piper is co-applicant
for the latter),
• Award by Congress of Qualitative Inquiry (Illinois, USA, May 2010) for
Sikes and Piper (2010). (To confirm contact Congress Director, see
confidential appendix to section 5),
• Invited presentation (Piper) at The Sunday Times Festival of Education,
Wellington College, June 2012,
• Edited Special Editions, International Journal of Research Method
in Education, 2011; Sport Education and Society, 2013.
Details of the impact
The research has helped the pendulum swing away from fear-based
approaches in schools, childcare, and sport. Impact is extensive in terms
of scale and scope; it can be identified at all levels: perceptions,
policy and practice regarding the investigation of allegations of abuse;
regulations and procedures re vetting; guidelines regarding appropriate
touch between adults and children at LA, school, and sport level. This is
an incremental process, but significant change can be identified,
indicated by wide media coverage and the range of agencies and
organisations involved — see below:
The impact of the research into touch and teachers was demonstrated by
approaches from DfE officials prior to the Importance of Teaching White Paper
(2010, endnote 43), in which the ESRC
(RES-000-22-0815) report is referenced, alongside additional data
commissioned from Piper. Substantial media coverage (available here
followed the intervention of Secretary of State Gove to an overly
risk-averse NSPCC initiative advising music teachers not to touch
children. While politicians will present any good idea as their own,
successive paragraphs of this Gove letter, and also of Gove's speech The failure of child protection and the need for a fresh start
(16.11.12), evidence wording and arguments drawn from the publications on
touch (ESRC report here),
unambiguously demonstrating significant impact. Similarly national plans for vetting were scaled down,
following a wider campaign to
which the research contributed. The research (Sikes & Piper 2010) on
false allegations provided evidence published by the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee 2008-2009,
which also led to further research by the DfE Allegations of abuse against teachers and non-teaching staff.
Problems of false allegations are also acknowledged in the White Paper
referred to above (see endnote 41). In sport too, where the
research made public, and gave voice to the concerns of many experienced
coaches and teachers, there are indications of change.
Wider Dissemination and International Impact:
The research attracted fruitful engagement (eg Free Play Network,
Inspired2Greatness, and further dissemination opportunities),
including overseas (eg Free Range Kids).
The international interest included invited collaborations
with significant researchers including professors: Richard Johnson (US),
Keith Lyons (Aus), Clive Pope (NZ) Hiroyuki Fujitahi (Japan) around touch
and false allegation. This also led to interdisciplinary work with the
American Veterinary Association re. children and violence (Emily
Patterson-Kane). In addition the research outcomes were deployed in
significant practitioner journals (eg Nursery World and Scholastic);
via training organisations (eg Pillars of Parenting) and opinion formers
of Ideas X 2). Widespread print-media exposure and national and
local radio invitations raised the profile of the research, including (in
REF period): Radio 1 Stories (Tempted by Teacher) 12.8.13; ESRC Britain in
2013; The Daily Record & Sunday Mail 25.11.12; ESRC Society Now
Summer 2012; The Daily Telegraph 22.7.12; THE Campus Round Up 12.7.12;
Spiked online 3.7.12; Physical Education Matters Spring 2012; Radio 4
Woman's Hour 7.10.11; The Sentinel 10.9.11; BBC Radio Stoke 8.8.11; The
Sunday Times 22.5.11; Sec Ed 5.11.09; Spiked online 7.10.09; Radio 4
Woman's Hour interview 7.10.09; The Independent 20.09.09; Psychology Today
17.7.09; Nursery World 2 page feature 25.10.08; Manchester Evening News
feature 9,5.08; Channel M Television interview 29.2.08; Sheffield Star
Series feature 28.2.08; BBC Radio Berkshire interview 28.2.08; CRINMAIL
28.2.08; The Guardian (education online feature) 27.2.08; BBC Jon Gaunt
Show interview 27.2.08; Daily Mail feature 26.2.08; Child Rights
Information Network 25.02.08; Sunday Mail online feature 25.2.08; The
Independent feature 2.8.08.
Piper has been contacted by solicitors representing teachers who have
been accused of abuse to provide expert statements for court and LA
hearings. A number of teachers in similar circumstances have also made
direct approaches requesting consultancy and expert advice. Teachers'
organisations and campaign groups (NAS/UWT, FACT, Institute of Ideas) have
requested evidence that links practitioner experience in teaching and
childcare with wider policy debates around perceived risk and the vetting
of adults in contact with children, in order to support their advocacy of
positive change. Others have drawn on the publications eg `This timely
book (Stronach & Piper 2008) raises serious issues about how adults'
anxiety and self-protection can undermine the welfare of children. The
authors ... place children's emotional well-being at the centre of the
discussion ... The arguments support practitioners' Nursery World
(Jennie Lindon, 03.07.08). As the damaging trends in
policy and practice on which the research has been focussed are reversed,
beneficial impact effects individual teachers, care workers, coaches and
others acting in loco parentis. Children and young people benefit
from more nurturing and humane intergenerational exchange. Numerous
organisations (eg Local Authorities, sporting bodies) benefit in an
environment characterised more by prudent trust than all-embracing fear.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Wider Dissemination and International Impact:
Free Range Kids:
See link to corroborate inclusion in US-based blog Reject
the fear that coach automatically = pervert: Thank a Coach.
Free Play Network:
see link to corroborate inclusion in Child
Protection Discussion Forum, (or contact Director, see
confidential appendix ).
see link to corroborate wide dissemination.
See link to confirm presentations at non-academic
- Institute of Ideas: To corroborate impact of the work on touch on
public discourse, contact Director and Founder of Think Tank, see
confidential appendix ).
- See also media exposure section 4 this document for evidence of wide
range of dissemination/impact.
- NAS/UWT: To confirm support for and significance of the research
- FACT UK: To confirm use of research in bulletins and talks, contact
Secretary, see confidential appendix .
(In addition further details could be provided relating to solicitors
acting for those falsely accused, who contacted Piper for advice re
court hearings — although specific details are necessarily confidential
— for more information contact HEI.)