October 28th, 2009

comfort

This inversion of power

This article by Jenni Russell in the Guardian is about the prosecution of teachers who are accused by pupils of assaulting them. This is an area where I have changed my mind radically over the years. When I was a kid the power was all with teachers, and although I was never assaulted myself I saw frequent violence by teachers against pupils, and also heard about a great deal of inappropriate behaviour. My default position has therefore always been to give the benefit of the doubt to the young person.

Recently however I have known several teachers who were - I believe - wrongly accused of things they did not do, by disturbed young people. In one case the teacher was vindicated because unknown to the accuser there was a CCTV camera monitoring the corridor where the assault was supposed to have taken place. In other cases the evidence has been less clear cut, and it has caused lasting damage to the person's work and family life.

The article mentions two things which arise as the result of these accusations: 'the Department for Children, Schools and Family's policy of encouraging schools to isolate all suspended teachers by banning them from having any social contact with their colleagues'. This policy affected at least one friend of mine: after a pupil alleged assault his colleagues were banned from speaking to him, for over a year, though some of them risked their careers by covertly talking to him (I am not joking). The second thing which I have seen happen is reflected in one story Jenni Russell quotes 'Social services decided that the charge made him a potential risk to any child, so he was ordered to leave his wife and teenage daughters and move out of his home'. This hasn't happened to anyone I know but one friend was threatened with it, and his wife was told she would have to choose between leaving her husband and having her daughter taken into care. Luckily it never came to that and the social workers lost interest after a couple of months.

The other thing that I have seen happen is that people are excluded from their place of worship as a result of these accusations. I obviously am not religious but I know religion is a comfort to many people, and it is hard that teachers are shunned by their co-religionists and banned from attending church services.
This summer the children's select committee published a report into the question of allegations against teachers. It was astoundingly critical of the way the authorities treated teachers in these situations. It warned that while only a tiny percentage of accusations ended in convictions, those wrongly accused were likely to go through "intense distress", and might have their lives and careers ruined.

In all honesty I do not know what the answer to this conundrum is. My feeling is that truly wicked teachers do exist, and are probably adept at evading detection, Meanwhile innocent - literally innocent - people have their lives destroyed.
breaking bad

Freedom

My children are growing up quickly. My daughter flew out to Germany today to visit her German boyfriend in Munchen Gladbach. My son just phoned to say he's got a job at Kenilworth Castle. He is planning to move out in a few days (eek!) to live with a friend, at least during the week. I think this is a good half-way stage to accustom him to independence. This time next year they will (probably) both be at University. My whole life is changing very rapidly now. For better or worse? Just different. I wouldn't like it if they didn't get older and more independent, but at the same time, I like young children, and I will never be the mother of a young chld again.

I wish we were like the Tralfamadoreans in Slaughterhouse 5. I wish I could come unstuck in time, and enjoy one day looking after babies, then have a day off being middle aged and quiet, then a day being a teenager, and so on.