Thug pupils ruining teachers’ careers

BBC Radio’s File on 4 put out this programme last week about how teachers’ careers are being ruined by false accusations, particularly of assault, often coming from pupils with a history of violence themselves. The audio is no longer available, but you can read a transcript here (PDF) and a synopsis here. They hear from three teachers, two men and one woman, who ended up losing their jobs after having to break up violent situations at school but were accused by those involved of attacking them. None of the three teachers in this programme were convicted of anything, but all had their careers ruined, as any investigation remains on their record.

There are two separate issues arising out of this. The first is raised in the programme itself, namely that the disciplinary panels do not work fairly; in both cases, they took the word of the head-teacher as gospel and simply ignored what the accused teacher said. In one case, the head-teacher, who was a key witness, led the investigation. School governors are elected “lay people”, usually parents (not necessarily parents of pupils currently at the school); basically “upstanding citizens” who want to add a string to their bow. These aren’t the first people you’d expect professionalism from. I’ve heard of one incident in the mid-1990s when a panel of governors declined to appoint a head teacher out of a group of interviewees, including the well-respected current deputy head, because they were all so good that they could not pick an outstanding candidate. I am sure that not all governors are that stupid, but are they the best people to decide whether to end someone’s career?

The second is that a teacher’s career can be ended with one incident of assault, even when the “victim” is a thug with a history of attacking teachers and other pupils. Not that long ago - until 1987, in fact, the use of the cane and slipper for disciplinary purposes was quite legal, so anyone who wanted to prove assault against a teacher had to prove that it was not justified. I am not saying I want it brought back, let alone that teachers should get away with slapping and even punching pupils for trivial reasons or knocking them round rooms, as they did at my school, but teachers these days, particularly in secondary schools, have to deal with pupils who don’t respect anyone, let alone authority; in some cases, they only respect strength. If governors are not wise to this, then dealing with accusations of this sort should be dealt with by people who are. Let’s face it, if a kid decides to assault someone, and has to be restrained, or fought, the possibility exists of someone getting injured. He (or she) knew that before sticking the fist or boot in.

I am sure some people will say that we should bring the cane back, but it won’t work on this type; they probably will not submit to it anyway. What I do think is that we should not expect teachers to act like saints when we all know they are not - as is the case with most people, in fact - and we also know that some of the pupils they have to deal with are the exact opposite. There needs to be some leeway and a presumption of innocence, particularly when the accuser is of known bad character. It should be less easy for bullies and other violent criminals to destroy the careers of hard-working professionals with malicious accusations.

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