Many of us have watched with incredulity and disgust the media feeding-frenzy about so-called "paedophile teachers". It all started when a PE teacher at The Hewett School in Norwich was revealed to have received a police caution because his credit card details were found on an American website supplying child porn. There seems to have been some doubt about his conduct, though - for instance there is no suggestion that he ever actually downloaded any child porn, or that he ever did anything untoward in a … "hands-on" sense, if you'll pardon the expression. Still, I suppose we can't be too careful, can we? He might be unsuitable to work with children, so let's get rid of him to be on the safe side?
It concerns me more that the big transatlantic police operation that netted thousands of these so-called paedophiles who subscribed to the website, Operation Ore, was later shown to have been completely flawed. Still, let's not quibble. The safety of our kiddies is much more important than whether we're actually right or not (and yes, in case you're in any doubt, I am being sarcastic).
And just to prove how vigilant the education system is in weeding out these perverts, we found this salutary story at First Post, the excellent online magazine.
A young maths teacher, after teaching successfully in state schools for nearly 10 years, decided to take a year off. She spent three months visiting a part of the world she had never seen before and taught in a charity-run school for street children. Then she returned to the UK intending to do a bit of supply-teaching and a bit of voluntary work before going back to full-time teaching.
She phoned a supply-teaching agency. They were appalled to hear that she had been teaching abroad and demanded to know whether she'd been given a police clearance to work with children when she returned to the UK. Of course she hadn't been, she replied. In that case, they said, we cannot employ you. Goodbye.
It was the same with every agency she contacted. Amused but baffled by the absurdity of it all, she phoned the Department for Education and Skills. Yes, they said, this was indeed government policy. If she wanted to teach in the UK again, she would have to fly back to her street school and get the requisite police clearance.
In disbelief she phoned her old school in the UK. They begged her to come back on supply and offered her old job back the next September. Nothing, she said, would give her more pleasure, and off she went.
But the authorities weren't having it. The school soon received notice that she could teach there temporarily, but only under supervision. She couldn't teach without being supervised by another teacher until police clearance from the third-world country arrived, and six months after that she could re-apply to the Criminal Records Bureau to receive official police clearance for her career to resume. Her decision to teach abroad had invalidated her CRB clearance and could well end her career permanently.
That's pretty good, isn't it? You are a talented young female teacher for ten years, but the moment you go to another country and teach something to a little foreign child, you're a paedophile! If instead of teaching abroad, you go to Thailand as a sex tourist, you can get your old teaching job back without any questions being asked.
The GOS doesn't like it to be generally known, but he was a teacher in secondary schools for 35 years. He started teaching before paedophiles were invented. He ended his teaching career with a 22-year stint with the same education authority, and in all that time he never had a CRB check. In fact, he was not checked until he retired and then took a little part-time teaching in a local independent school.
So there is, certainly, a need to overhaul the system. It plainly doesn't work. Nobody could possibly claim that we shouldn't take steps to keep paedophiles out of our schools. But we need to be clear that the people we keep out of our schools really are paedophiles, not just maths teachers on holiday, and that the requirement for CRB checks applies to everyone who works in schools. Just because someone has been there since the school was built shouldn't make him exempt.
And if it takes the resignation of Ruth Kelly to drive the lesson home, that seems a small price to pay for some common-sense measures applied in a common-sense manner.
One last thought. Going back to the media frenzy, just why do we get so irate about this particular issue? The GOS has a theory.
We get worked up about it because it's cheap and easy. You don't have to think very hard about it, and you know that nobody can afford to disagree with you. Many of us don't really know what to think about global warming. We're confused about militant Islam. We don't understand terrorism or what terrorists think they're going to achieve. We don't know the difference between Tony Bliar and David Macaroon and we can't be arsed to find out.
But perverts? That's easy. We know what to think about them, and we're all agreed, and it gives us a cat to kick. So let's get all our mates and go out and find a paediatrician ….
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