Press turns on union 'hags and thought police'

14th April 2006 at 01:00
The squabble started with playground insults and ended with more name-calling, mostly aimed at teachers' unions.

The first taunts were made by three children at a primary school in the Manchester suburb of Irlam. They admitted racially insulting an 11-year-old mixed-race pupil calling him such names as "Paki" and "Bin Laden".

Two of the children's families agreed to accept a reprimand from the police but a third refused, so their 10-year-old son was prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service for a racially aggravated public order offence.

Enter District Judge Jonathan Finestein. He threw out the case, telling the court that it was "political correctness gone mad".

The prosecution was "crazy", "stupid" and "nonsense", Judge Finestein said, adding that he had been repeatedly called fat when he was a schoolboy. "In the old days the headmaster would have given them a good clouting and they would have gone away and shaken hands," he said.

The press roundly applauded the judge's common sense. The Express praised his forthrightness at a time when "hardened criminals are allowed to roam free to commit crime while children who should have been given a sharp talking-to are prosecuted".

But teachers' unions were less impressed. Judith Elderkin, a National Union of Teachers executive member, said the judge was "a bit out of date".

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, weighed further into the fray saying that the judge's comments "trivialised racist taunts and abuse" and could "feed the pernicious agenda of the right".

The newspapers had found their hero. Now, with Ms Keates in their sights, they had a villain.

The Daily Mail suggested the union leader was a blinkered workaholic and that her comments reflected the "bovine, brainwashed politically-correct mindset of the liberal establishment".

"Presumably in her politically correct world of inverted values she thinks it all right to put the small boy through the terror of a court ordeal," it said.

"How typical of the teaching unions, in their crazed desire to Stalinise our children rather than educate them," huffed Simon Heffer in the Telegraph. "It can't be long before the hags and thought-police of the teachers' unions try to outlaw the use of nicknames altogether" added AN Wilson.

In the Sunday Times Minette Marin lamented that headteachers could no longer wash children's mouths out with soap, a punishment she said had done her no long-term damage. "If this kind of sanctimonious silliness exists at the top of the teachers' unions what hope is there for education in this country?" she asked.

Teachers on The TES online forum also criticised the unions' response.

"Thank God that some of our judges do display common sense, unlike the ridiculous teaching unions," wrote "existentialtyke".

A sobering interview by the Mail on Sunday with the insulted boy's mother put the row in a different perspective.

The unnamed woman said she had been appalled by how a systematic campaign of racial bullying against her son had been trivialised.

"It seems to have been forgotten that at the heart of this is a little boy," she said.


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