Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Anonymity – “At what price ?”

“It’s not fair that the accused is not protected from adverse publicity whilst the accuser is guaranteed anonymity, whatever the verdict.” Jonathan King (1944- )
“Sacrificing anonymity may be the next generation’s price for keeping precious liberty, as prior generations paid in blood.” Hal Norby

The Education Bill ("Michael Gove - Falling Down On The Job 3")
“The Emporer’s New Clothes”

An Emperor who cares for nothing but his wardrobe hires two weavers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or “just hopelessly stupid”. The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position or stupid; his ministers do the same.

When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime and the Emperor then marches in procession before his subjects. A child in the crowd calls out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself up proudly and continues the procession.

Teachers are to be granted anonymity when pupils make allegations against them, which will only be lifted if a charge is made. The proposals are set out in Michael Gove’s Education Bill.

The teachers’ unions were quick to rush in with their responses, laying claim to the fact that it was their initiatives and actions that has now resulted in the government’s bequest :

Dr. Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said : “Teachers will be delighted if the Education Bill helps gives them more protection against false allegations.”

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union said : “We are pleased that the Government has responded to our calls for safeguards for teachers facing allegations. False complaints have a devastating impact on innocent teachers, who may find themselves outcast within their community, but this can be reduced if anonymity is retained.”

Philip Parkin, General Secretary of Voice said : “We have been campaigning for the right to anonymity unless and until charged with a criminal offence.”

Somewhat surprisingly and completely out of character :

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, said : “The Bill has all the hallmarks of being conceived by power junkies. This Bill should be a wake-up call to all those who care about children’s education that time is running out to stop this Coalition from destroying our education system.”

(Why do the NUT and NASUWT always make the claim that they’re the biggest union - one of them must be but which ? And remember that biggest isn’t always best !)

Then teacher support agencies blew their trumpets :

Julian Stanley, Chief Executive of Teacher Support Network, said : “Teachers were vulnerable to allegations, but that Teacher Support Network had lobbied hard for those facing such allegations to remain anonymous. I am pleased that this new legislation will provide anonymity.

In a BBC radio interview, Helen Denton, Executive Director for Children & Young People, Lancashire County Council expressed doubts about Michael Gove’s promise to provide anonomity. She was of the opinion that it was not realistic and that anonomity could not be assured :

“It would be very difficult in any circumstances to keep the anonymity of somebody entirely free.”

Anonymity will never be easy to ensure and protect; however it would not be expected that the LEA would provide press releases to all local newspapers – they did in my case and on three occasions ! They also failed to alert me to the fact that they had spoken with the press and that a story would be featured.

I was suspended on 27 September 2007. Two days later, there was an article published on the front page of the Lancashire Evening Post. On 3 October 2007, the Chorley Guardian published a story. (Neither newspaper reported my name but they did include comment by Lancashire County Council. As Lancashire County Council contributed to these articles, you might have imagined that they would have alerted me to the fact – but no, they never cared !)

I have always pondered who had contacted the press, it was odd that the Chorley Guardian should have covered two stories on 3 October 2007 about Duke Street Primary School. The first presented an article about Andrew Kidd, head teacher and another reporting the allegation. It seemed too coincidental. I did ask Lancashire Evening Post who had reported the story. They said that, as with many stories, they had received an anonymous call. The Chorley Guardian said that they could not divulge such confidential information. I pointed out the coincidental publication of the two articles and asked how that was possible. In the end, they intimated that it was a school employee but refused to provide any other details.