Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Importance Of Teaching

Our document’s called “The Importance of Teaching” because we know that there is nothing which is more important in improving our school system than raising the prestige and esteem of the teaching profession and giving teachers more power over what happens in the classroom. That’s why we’ll be slimming back a lot of the regulation and bureaucracy that’s got in the way of teachers doing their job in the past and it’s why we’ll be giving teachers new powers to keep order and discipline in the classroom ...

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education

Behaviour and Discipline :
The requirement for 24-hours notice of detention will be abolished in legislation.
The DfE will issue a “short, clear, robust guide” on teachers’ power to use reasonable force, giving schools greater discretion on how to monitor these powers. Teachers will be able to search for pornography, tobacco and fireworks.
There will be statutory guidance to extend heads’ powers to punish pupils who misbehave on the way to or from school.
Anti bullying guidance will be simplified from 500 to 20 pages. Inspectors will be given more time to look for evidence on pupil behaviour, if there is bullying in school and how well it is dealt with, taking evidence from pupils and parents. Parents with concerns can ask Ofsted to inspect: they can decide how to proceed.
Allegations against teachers. The Association of Chief Police Officers is looking at how investigations in these cases can be speeded up. Heads will get guidance from the DfE to ensure teachers are not automatically suspended in these cases, and there will be legislation to ensure reporting restrictions prevent the identification of staff until they are charged with a criminal offence. The Government will clarify that referees should not be required to report allegations proved to be malicious or untrue.

We will better protect teachers from false allegations :
3.11 The fact that teachers are often the only adult in a classroom of young people means that they can be subject to false or even malicious allegations. In a recent survey, 50 per cent of staff questioned reported that they or a colleague have had a false allegation made against them. As well as being a distressing experience, this can affect career progression and damage the perception of teachers. So we will legislate to give anonymity to teachers accused by pupils and we will speed up the progress of investigations.
3.12 It is of course absolutely essential that genuine cases of misconduct or abuse are dealt with fairly and effectively. And to do this, false allegations need to be identified and dismissed quickly. Governors and head teachers should ensure that all allegations are investigated without delay. We will work with local authorities, the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to address this issue. ACPO are committed to looking at new ways in which investigations can be speeded up, without compromising their integrity, by eradicating all unnecessary delays.
3.13 Many head teachers have felt that the only option while investigating an allegation is to suspend the teacher in question, regardless of the nature or seriousness of the allegation. We will update guidance to schools to ensure that allegations against a teacher do not automatically result in their being suspended. Where there are no risks to children, we want to see alternatives explored so that teachers do not have to endure the stigma and speculation that accompanies suspension.
3.14 False allegations can damage teachers’ career prospects even once disproved. We will clarify that in future when employers are asked to give references for teachers they should never be required to report prior allegations which were found to be malicious or untrue. We will legislate to introduce reporting restrictions that prevent a teacher’s identity being revealed until the point at which they are charged with a criminal offence.
3.15 We will consider whether these measures should also be applied to the wider children’s workforce.

There have been several inspirational moments during my long fight and campaign for justice. One is especially relevant when, at a low point late one night, I e-mailed Michael Gove for help. He was online too and we exchanged a couple of e-mails and he closed his last by saying :

“Thank you for getting in touch. I very much sympathise with the terrible position you find yourself in. My heart goes out to you. And your position underlines my determination to provide more protection for teachers who’re falsely accused in the future.”

His sincerity gave me hope that maybe one day he might ‘champion’ the cause.

That was two years ago. Today, I feel differently and appreciate the ingenuous nature of people and politicians. He learned nothing of the life of a teacher or what tragic events can lie in wait for them.

Today, in his white paper, he claims to be providing increased powers, support and protection to the teacher. In truth, he is reinforcing the control and scope of the head teacher, governors and LEA and the teacher’s needs have not been addressed – worse their needs have not even been considered, examined or explored.

The head teacher is able to act with impunity, their actions being free from question or scrutiny – the consequence of an autonomous system. In many cases, it is the bully who now is being empowered with free reign and scope.

There is a naïve belief in the fact that everyone will behave fairly but they do not and can not – for they are judges in their own cause – so ‘natural justice’ will never be delivered.

The head teacher said, at my appeal hearing, that he knew that I was guilty of the assault from the day of the allegation. He said that he collected evidence and statements that supported his belief and rejected anything that, in his opinion, only served to ‘cloud the issue’. Lancashire County Council staff knew that there were documented reports of the significant resentment that was held by the head teacher toward myself but their HR staff lied about this fact at my appeal hearing. (Lancashire County Council’s failures and corrupt behaviour is detailed in my entry Sweep It Under The Rug).

I believe, that through my head teacher’s enthusiasm and his malicious intent, a point of no return was reached where it became impossible for Lancashire County Council to back track. To do so would have created a complex situation involving school staff, governors and the head teacher. So Lancashire County Council staff lied at my appeal hearing and pushed through a false finding of my guilt - with the knowledge that their actions would never be investigated. They knew that my health had deteriorated to the point where I was too ill to return to teaching. So they reinstated my position which then denied me the opportunity to take my case to an employment tribunal.

As allegations of abuse are relatively rare, a school can never have the experience and skills necessary to investigate allegations and to manage a case properly.

At best, the teacher is subjected to a theatrical farce where logical argument is replaced by purely emotional decisions by those who may well being ‘doing their best’.

In my case, the governors had no experience or training in handling allegations of abuse. My appeal hearing was like an obscene cross between the execution of Mary Antoinette and an episode from Kavanagh, QC. Two governors even told me how excited they were and that they had been looking forward to it for weeks; adding that they had had their hair done specially for the day !

It seems that there a few who really want to look at the failings of the system. The press and media favour the ‘poor teacher’ story so there’s a wealth of such articles, my own included. The unions claim to have worked on the problem for 20 years but they have achieved nothing. I believe that the unions are guilty of complacency and are responsible for the continuance and acceptance of a situation that can result in suicides – it kills people !

The government have done nothing to correct it – its failure to do so is nothing short of disgraceful negligence. Barry Sheerman, MP did get very close to describing the problem – he said that all that a teacher needs is ‘natural justice’.

And there it is in a nutshell :

“A teacher needs ‘Natural Justice’”

Sadly Barry Sheerman missed the significance of his own words.

Recently Chris Rider, BBC journalist produced the first programme that looks tentatively at the failings of the process. It was broadcast on Radio Lancashire last week. It identified the key failing to be that the school and LEA are both the judge and jury of allegations against teachers. There it is – a teacher can never receive ‘natural justice’ !

So Mr. Cameron and Mr. Gove, I have done your work for you – all that you need to do with your white paper is to amend it so that the teacher will be protected by a framework that guarantees them ‘natural justice’. Do that and we’re all winners !

The white paper sets great store on teacher’s anonymity being a crucial concern. In an ideal world it might be but it must be remembered that it is a school and rumours spread fast. Any expectation of confidentiality is unrealistic. However, this should not suggest that the school can release the story to the media – which is precisely what they did for me, supported by comment by Lancashire County Council.

The other issue is that of returning to work whilst an investigation is underway. I strongly suggest that we stop listening to the unions and use commonsense or psychiatric comment. Try to imagine what it might feel like to a professional teacher when an allegation is made. Your world is shattered instantly – suddenly every facet of your life falls apart. You can barely live let alone work – and can you comprehend what it would feel like to return to the scene of the so called crime ?

What is needed is very fast and comprehensive support for the teacher. The case too must be progressed with speed. It is not unreasonable for a police investigation to take a month to reach a conclusion. The aim should be not more than another month before any other investigative process is completed. That’s a total of 2 months and I believe that to be acceptable. Again, there needs to be an inquiry into why it takes schools years to complete their process – the cynical reason is that the dust will have settled, life’s moved on at school and the teacher and their story is no longer of any import.

Finally, consideration MUST be made of the damage that has been done. Financial compensation, early retirement, long term support to assist the teacher to reintegrate must be considered. We can not ignore an allegation and the priority must always be to the child but we must accept a responsibility to the injured party – and that will be the teacher on most occasions.

It seems wrong that government white papers should be written badly to the extent that they are open to misinterpretation :

“It is of course absolutely essential that genuine cases of misconduct or abuse are dealt with fairly and effectively.”

Surely all cases should be treated fairly and effectively ? There is also a very nasty implication that is inferred in the above statement that is a continuance of the major complaint of the system – a teacher is guilty from the start and that they then have to prove their innocence !

In all previous cases of allegations against teachers, I have considered the case where the allegation is false yet the teacher is found guilty.

I have recently been made aware of cases where an allegation is founded but the school choose to deliberately suppress the allegation in favour of the school’s and the teacher’s good name. Again, as nothing is open to scrutiny by a third party and there is no way to appeal to an external agency then this eventuality is possible.

So what do we have ? We have a system that does not work and never has in the past. It is a system that can put children at risk and kills teachers. It is a system that deters good teachers from entering the profession. It is a system that encourages and empowers the bully. It is a system that encourages good teachers to leave the profession. Everyone is a loser with this system - let us work together to make a system that does work !

House of Commons
Wednesday 24 November 2010
The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Cabinet Office

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked :

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent White Paper. What measures does it contain to protect teachers from false allegations made by disruptive pupils ?

Michael Gove: It was a pleasure to meet teachers in my hon. Friend’s constituency during the local election campaign two years ago. I know that they will welcome our proposals to ensure that investigations are speeded up when teachers face false allegations, and to ensure that they enjoy anonymity if such allegations are made. We will also tell head teachers that there should be no automatic suspension of teachers when they exercise legitimate authority in the classroom.

Jane Watts (Chorley ex-teacher): Amazing ! Years of data collation, reports, meetings and recommendations. Dozens of suicides, families and careers destroyed and you come up with something as radical as a chocolate teaspoon ! Anonymity and not being suspended are as much use to a teacher as a bicycle is to a fish ! Why can not a teacher receive ‘natural justice’ as a priority ? Why can not a teacher be compensated for the damage to their health and career ? You really do know how to make a teacher feel safe, protected and so important !