Let down by the council

16th December 2005 at 00:00
The school where I teach featured on television news recently because a parent is suing the local council to have her son moved from mainstream schooling to a more suitable placement.

It is sad when a mother becomes so desperate to have her son moved from an establishment that she feels forced to turn to the media to make the education authority act. However, it is the weak response from the council to her worrying allegations, rather than the allegations themselves, that is more damaging, and has left myself and many of my colleagues feeling let down by the local authority.

The mother made strong allegations which questioned the competence of the teaching, the lack of curriculum and the failure of teachers and auxiliaries in their duty of care to her son within the unit, which is for children with communication disorders.

Rather than having someone speaking to defend us, the council issued a statement listing the number of teachers and auxiliaries who worked in the unit, while pointing out that the building had been specially designed to be a safe environment - hardly a ringing endorsement of the staff. To say we have been damned by faint praise is an overstatement: there was no praise at all.

And of course the assumption is that the mother's claims were accurate, one of which is that the pupils make rice crispy cakes all day. I was actually asked if that was all we did at the school by a friend. One has to question why we were hung out to dry by the education authority, my colleagues were told not to speak to the media if anyone called. It wouldn't have broken the pupil's confidentiality to give a more detailed response to the allegations, as his mother had already done that by allowing him to speak on camera.

No one likes to be criticised, but my unease over the council's inaction is not simply that my and my colleagues' professionalism has been called into question. The implications of the negative press for the staff, pupils and the unit may not be felt until the long term.

The children already at the unit found the report unsettling, and some worried that the place they went to school was not the best place for them.

Their reputations were also tarnished, as it was claimed the children run around tearing posters down, banging on the walls and acting in a threatening manner when, in fact, the majority are well-behaved, calm teenagers.

If the mud sticks, the long-term future of the unit must also be in doubt as it will develop a reputation as a "Mickey Mouse" establishment where parents won't choose to send their kids, teachers won't choose to work in and pupils make rice crispy cakes all day.

Hopefully the education authority will learn that burying its head in the sand is not the best way of dealing with unhappy parents. If schools and teachers are attacked, then they should be defended. After all, it is easy to find the evidence that shows whether a pupil is being taught or not. If they are not, surely inspectors should be tackling the problem, not parents on television.

Gordon Cairns Melrose Gardens, Glasgow

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