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PAT slams 'Stalinist' gags

The Government's new code for local government should end the "institutionalised bullying" suffered by some teachers, Susan Leslie, who chairs the Scottish executive of the Professional Association of Teachers, told the association's annual conference in Cheltenham.

Ms Leslie condemned the "abuse of council policies on speaking to the media by Stalinist regimes who obviously have something to hide". It was important for employees to be free to speak about mismanagement and corruption without fear of retribution, she said in moving a resolution to uphold "the basic human right of freedom of expression, including the right, if necessary, of teachers to criticise their employers publicly".

The PAT had contacted all Scottish authorities to ask about teachers talking to the media. Most quoted the national code of conduct which states that contact should take place only where it is authorised by the council.

Ms Leslie said many authorities allowed both sides to put forward their views when disagreement arose, and they agreed with unions when an accused teacher needed protection from publicity.

But Dundee had banned employees from speaking in support of a colleague, thereby weakening greatly the case of a PAT member being handled by the Edinburgh headquarters. In the Western Isles PAT members had been "publicly vilified" by councillors and others during the recent controversy about the Nicolson Institute, with no public right of reply.

"One senior colleague received a written warning under the disciplinary procedure for daring to set the record straight," she said.

Alan Fraser, a teacher at the Nicolson Institute, told the conference that a councillor could attack an employee "in ignorance or even patent ill-will but the employee is denied any comparable right to speak out in defence of the institution of which he is a part or indeed of his personal integrity which has been savaged".

Ms Leslie said that Dr Fraser risked disciplinary action in talking publicly and had already jeopardised his career prospects.

Dr Fraser said that in local debates about education, including school closures and standards, teachers were inhibited from making a full contribution, just as they were unable to stand for council election. Respect for legitimate authority was desirable but there also had to be legitimate steps to curb abuses.

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