Shame of Britain's failing media

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
There can't be many other occupations in Britain that are so often and so casually bludgeoned in the media as teaching. While teachers are regularly hectored and lectured on how they should be doing their job, it's a rare occasion when doctors or lawyers or other professionals are similarly taken to task.

When did you last read demands for the sacking of thousands of failing town planners? How often are bank managers accused of using "trendy" techniques that have ruined the chances of a generation? And how would MPs react to calls for them to be subjected to appraisals, to meet performance targets, or to follow mission statements?

Instead of getting angry, a teacher in a primary school in London's West End has decided to use the Internet to get even. Leon Cych, IT co-ordinator at All Souls School, is running a Web site dedicated to letting teachers have their own say about how they're treated in the news.

"Biteback at the media" has been created by Leon Cych as "a feelgood page for teachers" where they can "vent their feelings about misrepresentation in the media".

"Even if you're a good teacher, the negative stories about teaching still hurt," says Leon Cych. What he particularly dislikes, and what he hopes his Web page exposes, is the soundbite culture in which complex issues about schools are reduced to a quick hit-and-run newspaper story.

Launched in the summer, the site will soon be updated for the autumn term. But if you want to see contributions from last term, they're still on the site. They include much unsubtle sarcasm directed at stories following the publication of the White Paper.

Particularly irksome for Biteback contributors is the endless journalistic hunt for a new and dramatic angle. For instance, in mid-July the Biteback columns snapped at a sack-the-teachers story: " 'Sack in one month for bad teachers' was a story picked up by several papers this week. The journos, in general, had only just got round to pulling out juicy info from the White Paper or, more likely in their cases, the press release, to get a good story. This is about gross misconduct proceedings and a bit of a non-story."

A more serious grilling was given to an article about alleged cheating in tests for 11-year-olds, with the Bitebackers complaining about the habit of generalising from a few examples. Even The TES is accused of producing "one of their wonderful wind-up articles" with a report headlined "Become a teacher in one term".

Think-pieces, in which wearisome commentators bang on about a favourite theme, also come under attack. An article in London's Evening Standard is cruelly anatomised, with Bitebackers mocking the journalistic device of using an inarticulate teenage doorstep hawker as proof of the failure of the teaching profession. This type of article is described as an "iceberg piece", in which a small amount of surface evidence is used as a platform for an "unsubstantiated tirade".

So, as the Web site cautions: "Remember all you media folk, be good boys and girls, because teacher is watching you."

Teachers Biteback against Media Representation: http:www.poetry.

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