Hard lessons of media in school

The story of the Ridings - the Halifax school which went "to hell and back" in the full glare of the world's media - is a tale for our times. In his compelling personal account (see Friday magazine), "superhead" Peter Clark explains how the mass media became far more than detached witnesses to events. They joined in.

Clark recounts how the more disreputable journalists paid pupils to speak out against the school. Perhaps even more shockingly, because of its respectable reputation, the BBC Panorama programme brought in a "cherry-picker" crane to spy on teachers and pupils in their classrooms.

In such circumstances any adolescent, whether disaffected or not, will be tempted to act up for the telly. When asked by photographers to "flick a few Vs for the cameras", Ridings pupils duly obliged.

Newspapers and television, without a doubt, should act more responsibly when dealing with children. Of course, under-performing schools should not be protected from public scrutiny. But it is a sad commentary on our media-driven age that when a school is in crisis, the head's skill in managing the media is as important as his or her ability to run the school.

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