Murderers treated better than teacher

12th June 2009 at 01:00

Scotland's first case of someone being removed from the register of the General Teaching Council for Scotland for professional incompetence involved a Perthshire teacher who was found to have failed to meet the standard of performance expected of her.

While it may be said that openness is a hallmark of justice in a democratic state, I wonder what injustices were meted out to the teacher concerned. The aggrieved person was hounded by the press and articles appeared throughout the UK, ranging from The Times to the Perthshire Advertiser. The Sun even had its say, referring to the "bungling" teacher.

But to what extent has the debarred teacher been made a scapegoat in a way that totally demeans the integrity and human rights of the teaching profession? The story goes that Mary Magdalene was "caught in the act of adultery", which led Jesus to utter those famous words: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." Was it not a council (the Sanhedrin Council) that acted as a catalyst in putting Jesus to death?

Right-wing views often call for harsh sentences and punishments for crimes committed by the guilty. The debarred woman teacher, after the verdict of the GTCS, talked about being "depressed" and even "suicidal".

On the matter of anonymity alone, is there not a case for arguing that the teacher has been harshly treated? (Hence, my wish not to mention the deregistered teacher's name in this article). In criminal cases, notorious killers such as Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who murdered James Bulger, have been granted court orders giving them a new identity at the expense of taxpayers after their release from prison. A similar protection was allowed to Maxine Carr, the girlfriend of Soham killer Ian Huntley. More recently, the preservation of anonymity has been considered for the killers of poor "Baby P".

In the case of teachers, the recent conference held by the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association called for anonymity for teachers accused of unprofessional behaviour until their hearings were concluded. One member of the congress said he had been "horrified" by the media coverage of the case. While it would be hard to impose anonymity on someone after he or she was found guilty of incompetence, I consider that such teachers are being treated worse than serious criminals who have a means of renewing their identities.

I am not suggesting that teachers, having been found guilty of incompetence, should be allowed such privileges. Nevertheless, it should be recognised that the GTCS faces a complex task in striking a balance between policing the teaching profession fairly and effectively, and mitigating the huge embarrassment the aggrieved party is made to feel in paying for professional inadequacy.

Richard Willis is a senior research fellow at the centre for research in educational policy and professionalism at Roehampton University and author of `The Struggle for the General Teaching Council'.

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