The Education Secretary recently announced that teachers who “fail to protect children from extremism” will face being struck off the teaching register without appeal.
That seems right doesn’t it? We can’t have teachers “promoting extremism” can we?
Of course not! Where would be if we allowed that to go on?
A couple of decades ago, teachers were also told not to promote things. Then it was “homosexuality”. In 1986 the Thatcher government introduced Section 28 of the Local Government Act and made it illegal for teachers "to promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship." These days, that law is generally considered “extreme" and "intolerant” (though the law itself was only repealed in 2003). How quickly values change sometimes.
For some years I worked at the now defunct General Teaching Council, which at the time had responsibility for both registering and regulating the profession. It was a thankless task with the 550,000 teachers in England - most of whom thought it was a pointless organisation and resented paying the modest fee - but we heard some interesting disciplinary cases.
Here’s one – a head teacher embezzled nearly £30,000 from school funds because she used the money to pay for the hospice care and specialist drugs for her terminally ill mother.
You can’t have head teachers fiddling the books even for reasons that might rend the heart. Strike her off!
These things always seem so straightforward until you get into the detail. Actually she wasn’t caught taking the money outof school funds. She was caught putting it back in– and just at the point where she had re-paid almost all of it in the months after her mother had died.
What would you have done? Struck her off the register, never to teach again?
Here’s another – a teacher used the school’s computer and internet during lunchtimes to post comments on a political chat room. Not the worst crime in the world surely? Everyone uses work computers for personal use don't they? I certainly did. Have you never read the BBC news website, booked cheap flights or even up-dated your Facebook status? And so what if it was political... we live in a democracy don’t we? Free speech and all that?
This teacher was a member of the BNP and posted offensive remarks about ethnic minorities and immigrants.
What would you have done? Struck him off? Are you sure your judgment isn't biased because of his political views? Would you have been so damning if a friendly colleague had done something similar on the website of a mainstream political party - like those nice Liberal Democrats or those lovely Greens trying to save the planet?
In the talks I do around the country with thousands of new teachers, many ask me what are the circumstances where they might be “struck-off”. Invariably they are surprised at the leniency displayed by the disciplinary panels at the former GTC and those that now deal with such cases at the Teaching Regulation Agency.
So here’s a little exercise for you...
For which of these heinous crimes would you be certain to get a life-time ban? (Answers at the end… so don’t peek)
A caution for being drunk and disorderly in a public place.Being an alcoholic.
A caution for possession of recreational ‘dance’ drugs’.
A caution for possession of a Class B drug (eg marijuana).
A conviction for speeding at 100mph on a motorway.
A conviction for domestic violence.
A sexual relationship with a pupil over the age of 18 who is at your school.
A sexual relationship with a 16 year-old pupil not at your school.
Active membership of an extreme political party.
While you might not get permanently "struck-off" for some of these, a conviction or caution might result in your employer dismissing you on the grounds you have “brought the school into disrepute” - especially these days.
My advice is: read your employment contract (particularly if you work at an Academy or Free School) and join a union.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.
His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.
Probably only Number 6 would result in a substantial or life-time ban – and even that is only as recent as the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Until then it would only have been considered ‘unprofessional’ but it was not illegal. Perhaps bizarrely, Number 7 is considered neither 'unprofessional' nor illegal - but a private matter. While most of the others may be illegal, they can be mitigated. Number 2 is considered a health issue, though turning up for work drunk would obviously be a disciplinary matter. As a matter of interest, the teacher disciplined for posting offensive comments on a far-right website is now the leader of the BNP.