Injustice at deaf school

6th November 1998 at 00:00
IT IS with considerable anxiety that I write to express my concern about the handling of David Scott's removal from his post as principal of Donaldson's College (TESS, October 23).

At a time when teachers are generally coming under pressure through the demands of an ill-planned and underfunded innovation in upper secondary years, and an increasingly litigious society where the slightest whiff of injustice or maltreatment, whether real or imagined, at any time in one's past seems to warrant a writ being issued, it is high time that somebody stood up for the rights of teachers in these cases, especially people like David Scott.

A visit to Donaldson's College will tell you that considerable building work is being done at present. The scaffolding that clads the exterior of the college is part of a Pounds 2 million refurbishment programme which David Scott, at the specific instruction and request of the college governors, has spearheaded and been instrumental in securing funding for.

Many businesses would be proud to have a successful negotiator of the calibre of David Scott dealing with Scottish Office to secure, for the deaf children in Scotland, an improved highly effective facility for those children who live in a world of silence. The relaxed and warm atmosphere, as well as the caring attitude of staff are in no small way attributable to the efforts led by David Scott.

His concern and motivation has always been for the deaf child, and although an earlier press article had alluded to the alleged shortage of signing teachers at the school, the point was that Mr Scott arranged for those teachers to become signing competent as soon as was practicable.

But the most alarming aspect of this - and here every teacher in Scotland needs to be aware - is that much of the witch-hunting that has gone on in the case of David Scott was driven by a malicious accusation brought about by a pupil who later retracted and admitted that the entire story had been made up. That same pupil has been suspended following further incidents in the college. It is quite baffling that the staff of the college were prepared, after the first allegations were withdrawn, to actually have the pupil return to their classes at all.

It is also a matter of note that the governors of the college were not at any time prepared to solidly stand by David Scott; as soon as he was suspended, the silence from the governors was deafening. They felt unable to support and defend publicly the work he was doing in developing and improving the levels of residential and educational facilities that they had endorsed as part of his remit.

In the context of the HMI inspection which pre-empted David Scott's suspension, as soon as he was suspended from duty, the HMI should have withdrawn from the college. My understanding is that HMI inspections are supposed to be a "snapshot" of the way in which an educational establishment operates, and are, as far as possible, to be conducted in as normal a way as possible. There is nothing normal about a school having its principal suspended.

It is clear to me that in cases where serious accusations are levelled at teachers by pupils, it should be made quite clear to the accusers (and their parents, whom one would assume to be party to and aware of such accusations) that the teacher should, in the event of these accusations proving unfounded and downright malicious, be able to sue for substantial damages.

The teacher should also have the right to refuse to teach the particular child. In certain cases this may result in a pupil finding that deliberate mischief-making and damaging the reputation of a teacher may result in them being transferred to an alternative educational establishment.

Too many teachers are having their professional and personal lives damaged - in some cases irreparably - through malicious and dishonest pupils who feel that it is fair game to have a go, and that the system backed up by some intemperate and inaccurate journalism in other publications, will simply support them. Enough is enough.

Pete Clark. Drum Brae North. Edinburgh

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