Friday, 10 July 2009

The Ambulance In The Valley

The Ambulance in the Valley

‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke, and full many a peasant.
The people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally.
Some said ‘Put a fence ‘round the edge of the cliff’,
Some, ‘An ambulance down in the valley.’

The lament of the crowd was profound and was loud,
As their tears overflowed with their pity;
But the cry for the ambulance carried the day
As it spread through the neighbouring city.
A collection was made, to accumulate aid
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave pounds or pence – not to furnish a fence –
But an ambulance down in the valley.

‘For the cliff is all right if you’re careful’, they said;
‘And if folks ever slip and are dropping,
It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much
As the shock down below – when they’re stopping.’
So for years (we have heard), as these mishaps occurred
Quick forth would the rescuers sally,
To pick up the victims who fell from the cliff,
With the ambulance down in the valley.

Said one, to his pleas, ‘It’s marvel to me
That you’d give so much greater attention
To repairing results than to curing the cause;
You had much better aim at prevention.
For the mischief, of course, should be stopped at its source;
Come, neighbours and friends, let us rally.
It is far better sense to rely on a fence
Than an ambulance down in the valley.’

‘He is wrong in his head’, the majority said;
‘He would end all our earnest endeavour.
He’s a man who would shirk this responsible work,
But we will support it forever.
Aren’t we picking up all, just as fast as they fall,
And giving them care liberally ?
A superfluous fence is of no consequence,
If the ambulance works in the valley.’

The story looks queer as we’ve written it here,
But things oft occur that are stranger
More humane, we assert, than to succour the hurt
Is the plan of removing the danger.
The best possible course is to safeguard the source
By attending to things rationally.
Yes, build up the fence and let us dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley.

Joseph Malins 1895




“The Ambulance In The Valley” is one of those wonderful works of prose that conveys such a strong message. We are all guilty of becoming fixated by that ‘ambulance’ – it is our nature … instinct is to address the symptoms of a problem and forget to determine and analyze the root cause.

Quickly, we are swept away with the tide of enthusiasm as more become involved and want to participate. Years later, someone might have the vision and conviction to look at what is happening – to see that initial fallacious error of judgement and to take action. They must be strong to sweep away all the ‘good work’ that has gone before and start afresh.

What ‘fence’ can be erected for a teacher to shield them from falling over the precipice ? Whatever future policies exist, they can never be more than a ‘safety net’ to catch them as they fall.

The only protection against false allegations are those provided by safe working practices and sadly the technology of video / audio surveillance.

I did a lot of work considering how I would keep safe at school, if I returned – the ‘two deep leadership rule’ of having another adult with you at all times is a good safe practice – but that didn’t work in my case. I happened to mention this problem to the police. They suggested that the school should have surveillance cameras throughout the school ! They added that a better alternative would be to use the same personal body cameras that the police use to protect themselves from false allegations. They use digitally encrypted recording so that no one can use the video for any other purpose. In their experience, CCTV systems can never guarantee 100% coverage and fate is such that an incident may not be in view of a camera. Being understandably cynical, they added that camera / recording failures frequently coincided with incidents !

The scale of the problem and its consequence can be life changing and life threatening. The capital outlay to protect yourself is less than £1,000. If I could turn back the clock two years then I would have used personal surveillance technology. There can be no other solution - you need to keep safe and keep wise.

Abuse allegations are now a part of life - it can happen to you - so be prepared and don’t accept the risk.

The devices are commonly available and are similar to ‘bluetooth’ accessories. Suggested distributors of such systems are DogCam or RoboCam.

I found a few companies who were prepared to lend me such equipment for evaluation and it is worth making enquiries.



Today, there was the tragic news that a pupil had been hospitalized following a violent assault by his science teacher at a school in Mansfield, “Science teacher arrested over ‘assault’ on schoolboy”.

The Telegraph, 10 Jul 2009

And another older article : “Teacher pleads for CCTV in classrooms”.

Coventry Telegraph, 22 Jun 2007

Two dreadful and appalling stories of misery and sadness, potentially diametrically opposed in actual events and intent. The journalists have presented the known ‘facts’ and ‘evidence’ behind the incidents. We are then able to consider and judge the guilt of the unfortunate teachers from the comfort our homes.

But what is the truth ? Does it matter ? We all know that Peter Harvey must have lost control in a moment of frustration and that John Whitehead has been the subject of a travesty of justice. The papers allow us to make that judgement.

The fact is that we do not know, none of us were there nor the reporters or police. No one will ever know what really happened, the degree of provocation, such things are not important - society simply wants to assign blame and punishment.

Cameras would have recorded these events without prejudice – much akin to a ‘black box’ on an aircraft. And like that ‘black box’, we can learn from such events – knowing the facts allows corrective action to be made that might minimize such risks in the future.

I feel the deepest sorrow when reading such stories – a teacher is guilty from the very start and it is an impossible uphill journey to escape.

In my case, I know that classroom surveillance cameras would have saved me, my career and my life.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT union, said : “We do not support the use of cameras in this way and see no professional security or educational benefits to such systems.” ... from a recent article, entitled : “CCTV installed to monitor classrooms”.

The Telegraph, 04 Mar 2009

Teachers, children, parents need a ‘fence’ erecting to protect everyone. Consider Chris Keates’ opinion – is she not one of the outspoken villagers fighting for ‘The Ambulance In The Valley’ ?

Worse than that, she requires the statistical data on the number of injuries suffered over 18 years before considering investing in a box of band aids !

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