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    Tuesday, 24 April 2007

    'Shooting the messenger': teacher-journalist on misconduct charge

    I remember with shame and regret the torture that I, together with my classmates, occasioned on our hapless French language teacher in the second year (at what was reputedly a 'good' school). The inanity of our behaviour was brought home to us during the weeks of detention imposed when another teacher - happening down the corridor as we were in mid-Punchlines mode with some guys even bringing their desks with them as they moved to other parts of the classroom - walked in on our shennanigans and hit the roof. While our goings-on might (please?!) be excused as hijinx and tomfoolery, a documentary aired on Channel 5 in April 2005 suggested that such riotous behaviour - and much worse - have become endemic in schools across the country.

    Now, the supply-teacher who went undercover in eighteen different schools to get the footage on which the Classroom Chaos programme was based is facing charges of professional misconduct before a disciplinary committee of the General Teaching Council (1,2,3). She is accused of bringing the profession into disrepute on the bases that children were filmed without their parents' permission and that by engaging in a dual enterprise (teaching and filming) her attention was diverted from promoting the education and welfare of the pupils in her charge. Teachers' unions accused her of being underhand and of sensationalising the issue. At the time, rightly, the programme gave rise to much public debate. After all, its hard to sensationalise attack by rubber truncheon...

    To my mind the proceedings are misdirected. No doubt the teacher in question has a case to answer; probably the children's privacy rights were certainly infringed and welfare undervalued. But - as has been linked / noted on here before - there must be a defence to such actions for journalists and public-spirited others based on the performance of the watchdog function in a democratic polity. The teacher in question should be thanked and not castigated. The proceedings smack of punishing someone who - presumably diligently and conscientiously - exposed, perhaps dramatised, an important issue that needed airing. The collective embarassment of the teaching profession at some perceived implication of incompetence shouldn't be focused through the profession's leaders onto an individual whistleblower.

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