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

It's hard to predict which news stories will catch fire in the forums. Last week we expected a Vesuvius of outrage on the announcement of the 2005 pay deal. Instead, we got muted exchanges, most expressing confusion. DorothyD was worried: "If I already have a responsibility point, can it be taken away?" She had to wait an hour before mrkeys broke the news: "Yes, unless it was for teaching and learning. The restructuring could lead to thousands of teachers losing their management allowances."

Despite our efforts, the debates on Ruth Kelly's dilution of Tomlinson never climbed far above room temperature. Then, on Wednesday, the Appeal Court ruled that schoolgirl Shabina Begum (pictured) had the right to wear a jilbab to school, and there was uproar. Treefayre kindled discussion at 2pm, bad-temperedly: "Bloody human rights strike again. Might as well let kids do what the heck they like." Unaware of what was to follow, user1951 offered some sweet reason: "Compared with a lot of things my pupils do this is harmless. Who in their right mind would want to make a big fuss about it?" Only to be shouted out by lord julian: "Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic!"

Only those whose history education resembled the travesty described in the latest Historical Association report on the secondary curriculum would be surprised by the intensity of this debate. Mix religion, race and politics, and you expect a conflagration. Spray them over the supposedly non-flammable material of school uniforms, and of course you get an inferno. Here was its online equivalent, with more than 150 postings by mid-evening.

Treefayre stayed in the thick of it, denying any racist undertones in his disgust at the court's decision. At 6.30, he agreed grudgingly with would-be pacifier lilyofthefield that "no, the earth won't spin off its axis", then was back on the offensive: "It's one more nail in the coffin of school authority." By 9pm, it was trench warfare, going nowhere. At 10pm, noteureka had to remind posters that Muslims "have as wide a range of opinions as any other group".

I'm with Selwyn, who in the cold light of the next morning was "not a little disturbed by the vein of xenophobia" of some posts, and who was wondering about the psychological impact on the girl at the centre of the case. But then I'm just an old pinko-grey liberal, so I would be, wouldn't I.

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website.

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