Sue Caldwell has been suspended from her teaching job at Friern Barnet School for allegedly encouraging pupils to skip class and join the anti-cuts protests. Even though she denies the allegation, and the investigation is ongoing, she’s been suspended and her name is all over the papers. The unions are understandably rather miffed – yet the very Education Bill they are protesting against would have prevented this whole mess.
Don’t mistake this for an argument condoning what she’s accused of. If it is found that Ms Caldwell did actually encourage pupils to skip school, then of course she should be held to account. Teachers are responsible, both legally and morally, while pupils are in their care, and if they encourage kids to break the law by truanting, without parental consent, in order to go to a protest where they may or may not be kettled by the police and/or hit by flying fire extinguishers, they are failing badly in that responsibility. Parents of a child in such circumstances have every right to be annoyed. The law cannot be that you are required to be in school unless your teacher happens to agree with your reasons for skiving off. It would be random and inconsistent, with different kids being allowed to skip school for different reasons, and, perhaps more importantly, with parents being completely unable to guess where their kids might be during the day.
So if the accusation is correct, Ms Caldwell definitely has a case to answer. But until then, her name shouldn’t be in the paper. Michael Gove is, perhaps ironically, seeing to it that in future, teachers like Sue Caldwell would be better protected by the system. His Education Bill, on this occasion, is doing exactly what the teaching unions have been campaigning for: it will speed up investigations (the NUT and Unison are complaining that the investigation has gone on too long), and stop teachers being automatically suspended when an accusation is made (they are complaining that a suspension is an overreaction, and disproportionate to the accusation). Both of these authoritarian measures are relics from the last Labour government.
Like Hannah McIntye, Teresa Mackenzie, Judi Sunderland, Robert King, Rebecca Poole, Bridgette Tarwala, Jane Watts and any of the other two-in-three teachers who are cleared of all charges when an accusation has been made, Sue Caldwell would have benefited from reforms like this particular one of Gove’s being implemented a long time ago.