Teacher suspended for letting students protest


5:09 pm - February 7th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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The Guardian reports that a teacher has been suspended after one parent complained she had encouraged pupils to miss school to join the recent demonstrations against education cuts and tuition fee rises.

Sue Caldwell, who works at Friern Barnet school in north London, is understood to have been suspended from her post. She denies the allegation against her.

Caldwell is believed to be the first teacher to be suspended for allegations of this nature.

Unbelievable.

As Matthew McGregor says on Twitter:

I’m sure those who were v upset over that teacher being suspended for speaking at tory conference will be outraged by this too

But it was perfectly ok for Katherine Birbalsingh to slam the entire education system at the Conservative party conference apparently.
The Daily Mail was ecstatic:

In the most passionate moment yet at the Tory autumn conference, Katharine Birbalsingh attacked a state system which she said was ‘broken as it keeps poor children poor’.

The former Marxist confessed she had voted Tory for the first time at the general election, saying that teachers were too ‘blinded by leftist ideology’ and refused to admit they were failing children.

The deputy headmistress was so successful at her job that her own school failed soon after, thanks to applications falling off a cliff. Oh well, at least she can get by, blogging for the Telegraph.

So let’s get this straight: when a teacher allegedly allows students to protest against government policy, if they feel strongly about it, she gets suspended.

But if she generalises about the entire education system while praising Tory party policy, she should be defended to the hilt for “SPEAKING THE TRUTH!!!1!“.

Update: To clarify, the comparison with KB is on the basis of how the right-wing media defended her actions after (implying there was nothing wrong with bringing politics into the class-rooms, and the problem lay with teachers being ‘Marxists’) than with what she actually said.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


I don’t think the problem is that the teacher asked students to “get involved in political activism”, but that according to your introduction she had “encouraged pupils to miss school”.

I am sure she would not have suspended had she told pupils to go to protests in the afternoon or evening, once they have concluded their classes.

So let’s get this straight: when a teacher allegedly allows students to protest against government policy, if they feel strongly about it, she gets suspended.

You said earlier she encouraged students to protest (during school hours) – which is it?

Wot Andreas said.

“You said earlier she encouraged students to protest”

correction: was accused of encouraging…

Um, Sunny?

Sue Caldwell, who works at Friern Barnet school in north London, is understood to have been suspended from her post. She denies the allegation against her.

There’s a due process to carry out, but teachers are supposed to ensure the kids go to school, not tell them not to.

Conflating “don’t come to school, do something else instead” which is a clear breach of duty (and I currently work at a school) with “I disagree with the school system and want to say so” is, well, an interesting approach, but not really valid, especially as the person you’re defending says she didn’t actually do what she’s suspended for.

Defend her innocence instead of assuming she’s guilty then saying what she’s guilty of is something that shouldn’t be wrong?

Because whether or not teachers should be allowed to encourage kids to skip school, currently, they’re not allowed to, so if she did, it’s clear breach of contract and professional standards.

Defend her innocence instead of assuming she’s guilty then saying what she’s guilty of is something that shouldn’t be wrong?

Even if she did encourage them to go out on protests – I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.

That’s part of their education surely, to be interested in political affairs and get involved in activism.

That’s part of their education surely, to be interested in political affairs and get involved in activism.

Not to tell them what politics to support.

Sunny, if her contract is anything like a standard school contract, it’s a clear breach of her terms of employment. If it’s true, they’ve no choice but to deal with it.

Whether it should be is a completely separate issue, but she knew her terms of contract and, most importantly, denies breaking them.

Wanting the terms changed for the future is one thing, but it’s clearly alleged she made a serious breach of her terms of employment and what is normally considered professional standards for a teacher.

You want those standards to be changed, fine, but you can’t change them retroactively.

part of their education surely, to be interested in political affairs and get involved in activism.

Yes, and I had teachers that encouraged me to get involved in stuff. Outside of school hours.

And that’s the important thing.

Simpyl put, you cannot complain when people you don’t like break rules you approve of, and at the same time praise people for breaking rules you disapprove of, it’s called hypocrisy.

Changing the rules going forward is somethign you can campaign on-good luck with that. But asserting she shouldn’t be punished if it’s true she did break her terms of employment?

No.

8. Chaise Guevara

What BenSix said. Isn’t it actually illegal for a state school teacher to encourage their pupils to follow a certain political line?

9. Chaise Guevara

Also, were the boot on the other foot I strongly suspect this article would have been called something like Tory Suspended For Brainwashing Children.

Not to tell them what politics to support.

Except I highly doubt she told them to march off whether they liked it or not. Fatuous argument.

Sunny, if her contract is anything like a standard school contract, it’s a clear breach of her terms of employment. If it’s true, they’ve no choice but to deal with it.

The point is, how did the same conditions not apply to Katharine Birbalsingh – who did something similar?

, but it’s clearly alleged she made a serious breach of her terms of employment

How so?

I strongly suspect this article would have been called something like Tory Suspended For Brainwashing Children.

Deal with the argument, not whataboutery.

What do you mean “how so”, it’s been covered already, in your orignal piece.

She is alleged, and denies, encouraging kids to not attend school when they’re supposed to be there. That’s called truancy, and it’s something the previous Govt spent a lot of money and effort trying to reduce to as small a level as possible.

Seriously Sunny, she’s alleged to have encouraged truancy.

Motivation doesn’t matter, what she allegedly did does. That’s a serious breach of contract and is considered a serious breach of professional standards.

Now, it’s not me comparing her to Birbalsingh, she distinctly did not encourage kids to not go to school. You are.

But you’re saying what she did was similar, but complaining they’ve been treated similarly? The logic there escapes me.

Look, it’s simply. Teachers are required to clamp down on truancy, not encourage it. Encouraging truancy is wrong according to every school contract and clearly explicitly stated Govt policy going back as far as I can remember.

She denies doing this. You’re praising her for doing something she denies. Something that, if true, is a clear breach of standards.

I adore that this:

The point is, how did the same conditions not apply to Katharine Birbalsingh – who did something similar?

Is followed imediately by this:

Deal with the argument, not whataboutery.

The lack of self-awareness is fab.

But I don’t see that Birbalsingh – who criticised the running of her school, and argued that state education was flawed – is in any meaningful way similar to a teacher encouraging her pupils to play truant. One of those is a direct breach of terms of employment, the other one isn’t. They should be treated differently.

The thing about Birbalsingh and this teacher is that the former engaged in political activity in her own time, which is her right as teachers aren’t politically restricted, whereas the latter used to her position of authority to encourage students to engage in political activity in school time.

If Birbalsingh had brought her class to the Tory conference in the middle of the day, that would be different. As it is though the two cases are world’s apart.

Chaise,

What BenSix said. Isn’t it actually illegal for a state school teacher to encourage their pupils to follow a certain political line?

An interesting question. It appears you are correct – s406 Education Act 1996.

Except I highly doubt she told them to march off whether they liked it or not. Fatuous argument.

No, but she’s claimed to have encouraged them to take a particular view. Now, unless we’re to believe that teachers aren’t supposed to be authority figures whose pronouncements children should pay heed to (well, perhaps we’re not, some of us rarely bothered…) that ain’t just friendly advice.

On Caldwell, is your objection the lack of evidence, or that the act of encouraging children to miss lessons is not misconduct?

On Birbalsingh, do you really disagree with the suggestion that poorer children usually get an inferior education from our system compared to better off children? Just look around you – what sort of areas are the good state schools found, and what sort of areas are the failing ones found?

I don’t care from what the rest of what she said, although I have no reason to disbelieve the suggestion that she has colleagues blinded by leftist ideology.

Now you are right that the Tory policy is not going to fix this. No party has a policy that will make any significant difference to this inequality of opportunity. But it is exactly the sort of problem that the brains at lefty conspiracy should try to think of a solution to, rather than condemning anyone who brings it up.

Take note

I’m a student at friern Barnet school. Miss Caldwell wasn’t my favourate teacher, but this is ridiculous, every student that walked out, walked out without any infulance.

…and…

My daughter reports that, not only are the allegations about Miss Caldwell untrue, Mr Turner has consistently misprepresented the truth to them.

…and…

I am also a parent of a student at FBS who took part in the student demonstrations with my support.
My child was taught by Ms Caldwell to acheive a good GCSE grade a year early, she has a great deal of respect for Ms Caldwell whom she feels treats her with respect and is someone she trusts.
My child was very angry at the way the whole student demonstation situation was handled and also feels that Mr Turner misreprented the truth both beofre and after the demonstration. On top of that she felt bullied by Mr Turner when questioned about her involvement.

Bensix:

I’m a student at friern Barnet school. Miss Caldwell wasn’t my favourate teacher, but this is ridiculous, every student that walked out, walked out without any infulance.

So, as I said – she allegedly let them take time off to protest if they wanted, rather than forcing them to miss school.

So my point stands.

If she had told students to take the day off and run off to the protests, there would have been a case to answer.

No, but she’s claimed to have encouraged them to take a particular view.

Where and how?

Joe:
On Birbalsingh, do you really disagree with the suggestion that poorer children usually get an inferior education from our system compared to better off children?

Yes, and that’s because richer students go to well resourced schools!

But it is exactly the sort of problem that the brains at lefty conspiracy should try to think of a solution to, rather than condemning anyone who brings it up.

Yes, and the answer is to not let rich middle-class parents create their own schools, while excluding poorer students.

The answer is to stop subsidising exclusive schools for middle class parents and better resources schools in poorer areas, as Labour has done.

If she had told students to take the day off and run off to the protests, there would have been a case to answer.

No, but she’s claimed to have encouraged them to take a particular view.

Where and how?

Well, that’s the allegation. (Which, to be clear, might be a load of dingo’s kidneys.) From the Mail…

A teacher accused of encouraging her pupils to skip school to take part in tuition fee protests has been suspended.

…to the Socialist Worker…

Sue has been under investigation by her head teacher since November. This follows one parent’s complaint that Sue encouraged students to join protests to defend education.

The comparison with Birbalsingh is not valid because she was not encouraging children to promote her ideology and she was not doing it in school time.

Also given the number of times this website has run stories about the police using excessive force against student protestors, wouldn’t it be reckless to encourage children to put themselves in harms way like this?

Sunny,

No, but she’s claimed to have encouraged them to take a particular view.

Where and how?

see the first para of your OP:

The Guardian reports that a teacher has been suspended after one parent complained she had encouraged pupils to miss school to join the recent demonstrations against education cuts and tuition fee rises

It is also worth noting that Katherine Birbalsingh was forced to resign pretty much immediately after engaging in political activity in her own time (and she didn’t mention the school she worked at once in her speech) and was only at that school for a few months prior to the speech, didn’t work there afterwards, so cannot really be blamed for the drop in attendance.

This teacher, by allowing pupils to leave school like this, was probably in breach of her contract of employment and is now going through the due process.

Apples and oranges really and a bit of a desperate attempt to compare the two.

Well if you think it was fine to sack Birbalsingh, Sunny, then it should be fine to suspend Caldwell? Even though, of course, what Caldwell did was a clear breach of contract, whereas Birbalsingh may have done something which annoyed the part-time Labour-supporting head at her school but which didn’t breach contract.

The comparison with Birbalsingh is not valid because she was not encouraging children to promote her ideology and she was not doing it in school time.

My comparison with Katharine Birbalsingh has little to do with her specific stance, but how the media and right-wing commentariat proceeded to defend her…

Lastly, one parent says she “encouraged” her but where’s the evidence for that?

If a student turns up saying that she told them in class to go to the protests I’ll fully accept she was right to be suspended and investigated. But there’s no evidence offered here.

Sunny, the ‘evidence’ cannot be presented openly for the reasons the NUT rep says in the Guardian, BBC and Mail versions of this story.

But ultimately it’s the word of pupil(s) against teacher. We don’t get to know the evidence until after it’s resolved, if at all. That’s the way the system works, something I thought you ought to know?

Sunny #5 “Even if she did encourage them to go out on protests – I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.”

Sunny #26 “If a student turns up saying that she told them in class to go to the protests I’ll fully accept she was right to be suspended and investigated.”

sl – well spotted.

I should be more clear. If she told them to go, regardless of whether they wanted to or not, that would be wrong IMO.

On the other hand, I think if she indicated that she wouldn’t hold anyone responsible if they wanted to attend protests, and offered information on what the govt was planning, I see nothing wrong with that.

Caldwell is believed to be the first teacher to be suspended for allegations of this nature.

Unbelievable.

Yes, it is.

@ Sunny:

“On the other hand, I think if she indicated that she wouldn’t hold anyone responsible if they wanted to attend protests, and offered information on what the govt was planning, I see nothing wrong with that.”

Except she would be in dereliction of her duty as a teacher, and of her employment contract. Therefore justifiably going through a disciplinary procedure. Otherwise who decides what causes are just enough to be absent from school?

@4 MatGB: “Because whether or not teachers should be allowed to encourage kids to skip school, currently, they’re not allowed to, so if she did, it’s clear breach of contract and professional standards.”

My words are qualified by as many ifs and buts as those of MatGB.

There might be a moral argument for a teacher to breach his/her employment contract and to encourage students to skip school. For a “just cause”.

But a bloody and messy series of court cases will inevitably follow.

[deleted]

Except she would be in dereliction of her duty as a teacher, and of her employment contract

You’re making that assumption, without offering any indication that this happened. One person alleged she “encouraged” pupils to join a protest. You’ll have to define what encouraged means and how it violates her contract.

Teachers who belong to extreme right parties such as the BNP will be prevented from teaching, according to new Government proposals.

Should this apply equally to people who promote class hatred, eg – members of extreme left wing parties such as the SWP?

Sunny

Her alleged breach of contract wasn’t in encouraging, but in allowing her pupils to attend. Encouragement is a different, but much more serious, allegation.

35 – just ban them from working in private schools, job done 😉

@5 Sunny

“Even if she did encourage them to go out on protests – I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.”

Says a lot about your opinion of yourself given the law says children must be in school and tachers have a duty of care to their students. Or does your world view trump the law of the land?

39. Shatterface

‘I’m a student at friern Barnet school. Miss Caldwell wasn’t my favourate teacher, but this is ridiculous, every student that walked out, walked out without any infulance.’

Any kid who left school with or without the ‘infulance’ of a teacher isn’t getting enough education.

40. Chaise Guevara

@ Sunny

“Deal with the argument, not whataboutery.”

OK: school teachers should not be instructing children in their personal political beliefs.

Next!

The allegation was made by one parent. I’d like to know more but this response sounds disproportionate.


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