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TEACHERS COURT IN THE ACT

13-12-2007

Teaching

Laurence Inman on the "kangaroo court" that sits in judgement on teachers.

As I intimated last week, I’m going to tell you all about the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE.) Its headquarters are in Birmingham.

In the inflated language of which teachers seem so proud and which they are so determined to use these days, the GTCE defines as its aims ‘to help improve standards of teaching and the quality of learning in the public interest. We work for children, through teachers.’

Which is all very well. It looks wonderful when written down in a glossy brochure. But let me explain what, in many cases, the work of the council really amounts to.

Let us suppose that a teacher is arrested and charged with being drunk and disorderly. He (or she) didn’t do any damage, to property or people. It was just an unfortunate misjudgement of consumption. Not so very serious, you may think.

There are, after all, many more serious offences which teachers can, and do, commit. They sometimes have inappropriately close relationships with their pupils. They occasionally lose their temper and bop one on the nose. There are cases of teachers nicking the school fund to pay for their drug habits.

I have known teachers who have done all these things and they were, quite rightly, prosecuted and thrown out of the profession.

But let’s return to our first-offence D&D, (probably a direct consequence of the insane pressures he/she was under at the time.)

First, there is at least a two month wait for the case to come to court. This is, of course, a worrying and stressful time in itself. The case is heard before magistrates. £100 fine and bound over for a year. As I said, not serious.

But it does have some more serious consequences. For instance, the details of the case are probably known beforehand to the teacher’s colleagues and, inevitably, his/her Head Teacher.

There is only one better place for spiteful gossip and back-stabbing than a school staff-room, and that is the playground, which, once the story is baldly presented in the local Evening Gobshite, is alive and chirruping with the sound of gleeful sniggers.

Worse, it could make the nationals; they love it when a teacher does anything wrong. Even buried on page 11 of the Daily Arsewipe, it’s still a cause of some pain.

Then the Local Education Authority will also have to stick their oar in. The unfortunate teacher, by now sinking under the weight of public opprobrium, will receive a pompous letter from some underling at the office, warning him/her about the ‘inappropriate’ nature of his/her behaviour and the dire consequences of any repetition.

Then he/she will receive yet another letter from the DfES in London, telling him/her that although the offence for which they were convicted was among the most heinous on the calendar, their name will not entered on List 99, but it will if….you know the rest.

And there, until a few years ago, the matter would have ended. In a few months everyone would have forgotten it.

But not any more.

Now the teacher has to go before a panel of teachers (who have found a handy and well-paid escape from the troublesome business of having to teach kids) and explain him/herself. And they are able to hand down any punishment they choose, ranging from a mild reprimand to prohibition from the profession for good.

They are kangaroo courts. Many cases have nothing to do with the welfare of children, but everything to do with petty vendettas between teachers, or planned campaigns of harassment and bullying inflicted by senior teachers upon their junior colleagues, often arising from the most trivial of pretexts.

The situation is ready-made for abuse and many senior teachers have seen a perfect opportunity for a witch-hunt.

No one supposes that teachers are perfect. They have been known to be a bit remiss in marking homework, or preparing lessons properly and thoroughly. Sometimes they might lose their composure momentarily and in a rush of exasperation call a pupil ‘an idiot’ or something equally innocuous.

But whereas before such a thing would be immediately forgotten, or dealt with by a senior teacher having a quiet word with the ‘offender,’ (you know, helping them with a bit of practical advice,) now it is blown up into a ‘charge’ and put on a list of other cases which might take forever to come round.

Instead of the whole thing being over, literally in a minute or two, now the poor victim could see him/herself waiting years for the judgement of people who should never have been allowed to be in that position of power.

Next week I’ll tell you about a particular case which came up earlier this year. I promise you, it will take your breath away.

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