Prepare to be paralysed by the licensing law

24th July 2009 at 01:00

Have you ever tried to sack a teacher? It's impossible. My school has been locked in the process for so long that the concepts of right and wrong were abandoned long ago - by the other side, at least.

The case has dominated our year and it's not over yet. It has cast a negative shadow upon everything we've done. But schools should not be like this; they should be about positive achievement.

It has also cost us a huge amount of money. I would estimate around Pounds 50,000 so far - and she is still on the payroll! It is all wasted money. Public money, yours and mine.

Ours was not a speculative procedure. It was not bullying or victimisation. It was bang to rights. Everyone says so.

The union are fighting to protect the job of someone they themselves would be horrified to find teaching their own child. The acid test is: if it's not good enough for my children, then it's not good enough for anyone else's. A cliche perhaps, but it doesn't make it any less true. And it represents the most powerful argument of all: common sense.

Instead, the union has been obstructive at every turn. They know she is guilty. She has, after all, admitted it. All they are trying to do is spin it out to get her more cash. So there is calculated confusion and delay. As a consequence, the school has been disabled - and all because we have to manage the consequences of someone else's behaviour.

I understand the need for employee protection, but the emphasis seems entirely wrong. The procedures seem so heavily weighted against us. The system is not designed for fairness, or designed to test evidence. It is designed to paralyse.

We are under personal assault. It is a battle where everything about you is questioned. They are aggressive, confrontational and unpleasant. Everything we say is assumed to be a lie. But we have done nothing wrong.

They try constantly to unsettle you and turn back upon us the supportive actions we carried out. So taking her to her own doctor during the school day - at her request - is now an "invasion of her privacy" because we "forced" her to go. It is madness.

When it comes to their actions, procedures seem to be negotiable. For us, they must be rigid. So when we accommodate their delays, we are condemned for not following policy. But they have been entirely unprincipled throughout. To them, the justice of our case is less important than the procedural compliance. She did it and it was wrong, but that doesn't seem to matter that much.

And all the time, while the school has danced to their dispiriting tune, the teacher has been sitting at home for almost a year on full pay.

At least the kids are getting a better deal because she isn't there, but the rest of the school has been unsettled. Staff are awaiting the inevitable. We have their support in all this. The union reps in the school and locally have supported us throughout. But at a national level the union's actions have been appalling - baseless counter-allegations, bizarre claims.

What is their purpose? Are they really prepared to accept that children should be put at risk by one of their members, that children's safety should take second place? Because if they are, they should be closed down. How would they feel if it was their own child? Perhaps that is the answer. She should not be sacked, but moved to the school their children attend. They would be delighted, obviously, because they have told us how good she is all along.

Do they really want this teacher reinstated? They are absolutely mad if they do. Of course not. They merely want more money for their member. It's that simple. And they will break your will to do so.

But there is a bigger issue here. The new licensing system for teachers could lead to a school being completely paralysed. Reject a teacher's licence and what will happen? Disputes, appeals, counter-claims, legal battles. I can see all this being played out a hundred times. It will prove very difficult for many of us. We are teachers and not suited to this adversarial world. And it will keep you awake at night. It will invade your personal life. You will wish you had never started.

Faced with this prospect, it should come as no surprise if the majority of teachers are licensed on the nod. Because the alternative - a year-long struggle where a leadership team slips into an alternative universe, where values and ethics cease to exist, where we have no right to exercise discipline or judgment - is impossible to contemplate. Is that what we want? Soon it will be part of the job.

We must not sacrifice our own honesty, decency and beliefs. We can't let ourselves sink into the mire where others operate. We need to defend what is important. We must protect other people's children as we would protect our own. But it can be very hard at times, and this is why I approach the licensing system for teachers with some alarm.

We send large numbers of our young people to study law. Too many, perhaps. Soon there will be plenty of work: they can be lucratively employed within the teachers' licensing scheme.

Headteacher, South Wales.

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