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Easy on the Yuletide misery

I'm bracing myself for the annual deluge of bad news that pours from the press offices of the Scottish teaching unions to fill that slack news time between Christmas and New Year.

It's long been a festive present to education correspondents and news desks at a time when they want to pre-prepare as much material as possible. And the unions never fail to delight with a steady stream of bad news.

That's been the Yuletide tradition ever since I joined the old Strathclyde Regional Council's education press desk back in 1985, and although it keeps the unions and news desks delighted, I think it does enormous damage to the public's view of schools, teachers and education itself.

Last year, we read that teachers were dying of stress; the kids were assaulting teachers incessantly; schools were falling down; and Curriculum for Excellence was a disaster.

Some of that may or may not be true, but teachers and their unions must think about the impact of negative messages at a time of year when the average, non-education-connected member of the public wants to forget reality for a few days and enjoy the season.

Overdo the bad news and risk seriously upsetting a public that, for right or for wrong, views teachers as having good conditions, pensions to envy and, precisely when the bad news floods out from the people who represent them in the public eye, may think that those moaning teachers are at it again, right in the middle of yet another of their long holiday periods.

Unions need to think seriously about the timing. They also need to consider the damage done to the image of the profession they represent. As someone who spent many years working hard to promote a deservedly positive image of schools and teachers both in Strathclyde and in East Renfrewshire, I used to groan inwardly when the pre-Christmas holiday phone would ring with multiple enquiries from education correspondents, primed by union releases, seeking responses on everything that went wrong or could possibly go wrong in a school.

So, unions, please give us all a real Christmas holiday. Resist the temptation to fill news columns with so much bad news that the average parent or member of the public might be forgiven for wondering if it's safe to send children to school, or, if it really is that bad, why we employ and pay teachers at all.

Hugh Dougherty, Glasgow.

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