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Bill Hicks takes a weekly look at the hot topics in the TES chatrooms

I admit it. The tone of this column over the past half-term has been flippant. Lightweight. Trivial.

This is not an apology. So far as I am concerned, the forums are at their best as a recreation zone for tired teachers. But that's just one of the many roles they perform. The original forum was a place where the Roman people listened to, argued with and sometimes even kicked out their political leaders. It was where injustices could be aired, corruption exposed, hypocrites mocked, and heroes celebrated.

How do the TES forums shape up against their classical namesake? Pretty well, I'd say. Check back over the past four years and you will see that several big issues in education first found their way into the public consciousness via the TES Staffroom.

Cheating, and bullying (of staff by other staff) are two of the most complained about issues. Alas, neither seems to be going away. We even pre-empted the current government obsession with healthy school dinners, years ago (bless you, Zahra).

Forum members were blowing whistles about dodgy GCSE coursework in 2001.

They are often the first to spill the beans on "problems" in the marking of exams, because they are the markers. They have also campaigned against companies which were selling ghost-written dissertations to undergraduates from a website.

Other campaigners have been more self-interested, such as the NQTs who just missed the "golden hellos" and campaigned on our site for compensation. Or all those teachers adding their names to the massive threads on the increasing use of cover supervisors instead of supply teachers (see the Opinion forum, SeptemberOctober 2004, passim).

Earlier this year, a poster who (perhaps unwisely) chose the name DavidBeckham started posting about a scam he knew about involving the exchange of a firm offer at British universities to students from China and elsewhere, for large sums of money.

Maybe it was the cheesy handle, or maybe it was the way DavidBeckham turned on anyone who questioned the veracity of his allegations, but it was six months before the story made the headlines (see The THES, October 29).

OK, so forum users have not managed to unseat an education minister; there have been no Julius Caesar style assassinations, no toppling of statues, yet.

Just give them time...

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website.

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