Letter: unions did not initiate the media circus at The Ridings

29th November 1996 at 00:00
The National Union of Teachers' Calderdale secretary, Sue McMahon, accuses me of bringing a media circus to The Ridings School in Halifax. (TES, November 15). I initiated no publicity in respect of The Ridings.

On Monday October 14, in response to urgent appeals for help, in the company of Pete Cole, president of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, I visited The Ridings, making no public statement whatsoever.

After meeting NASUWT members, I presented their case to the chief education officer, chair of governors and chair of the education committee.I handed over the now famous list of 61 problem pupils. I also informed them that the NASUWT would commence balloting for strike action the next day. Effectively, therefore, they had some 28 days to come up with an action plan to restore good order in the school or face the consequences of NASUWT strike action.

I was anxious for the authority to be given time to come up with such a plan. I made no public statement whatsoever.

The following Friday, October 18, while visiting schools in Gwynedd, north Wales, I was informed that the story of the 61 was breaking locally.

Colleagues at my headquarters near Birmingham and in the London press office are able to confirm that my instructions were to respond to any question with a "no comment, neither confirm nor deny" response.

Three local journalists have since informed me that they were tipped off about the 61 by a local authority source.

Even though national coverage was almost certain to follow a local breaking of the story, I did everything I possibly could to avoid publicity.

By early the following week the story had broken nationally and the media circus descended on The Ridings.


General secretary


5 King Street

London WC2

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