March 01, 2007

Witch Hunt?

Writing about web page http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/127595/Topless_teacher_is_suspended

The de facto suspension of Louise Crolla from her teaching post following the publication of topless photographs of herself in the News of the World is a sad example both of the vulnerability of workers in the out-sourced ‘flexible labour market’ and of a resurgent reactionary morality usurping the rule of law in modern Britain.

Ms. Crolla, a former member of the England netball team, was a supply teacher at Royton and Crompton School in Oldham until it came to light that she had previously posed for topless photographs on the internet, photographs that latter appeared in the Daily Star. The head teacher of the school, Des Herlihy, initially stood by Ms. Crolla stating, “Miss Crolla is a capable and fully qualified teacher. She has passed all the relevant checks teachers have to go through. On that basis at this time, she can continue to work here.” But Herlihy seems to have quickly backtracked following the predictable ‘outrage’ from some parents, ordering the agency not to place Ms. Crolla with the school pending the outcome of an internal investigation into the incident.

The Department for Education and Skills has refused to comment on the issue, stating that “it is a matter for the school”, but the school itself is now also refusing to comment, passing all media enquiries to Oldham council, which has stated that is supports Herlihy’s decision to effectively suspend Ms. Crolla pending the outcome of the so-called ‘investigation’.

Had Ms Crolla been a directly employed member of staff at the school, any suspension during an investigation would have had to be paid but, as a supply teacher, she is not directly employed by the school and is instead employed by an employment agency. Daniel Bower, a director at Education Recruitment, the agency that employs Ms. Crolla, refused to comment on whether Ms. Crolla is being paid while she is not allowed to teach at the school. However, since supply teachers are usually paid on an hourly basis, it is probable that Ms. Crolla has been effectively suspended without pay and has thus been treated as ‘guilty until proven innocent’.

Terms of the suspension aside, there is also the wider point of why it is any of the school’s business what a teacher does in their personal life providing that their conduct is lawful. If the outraged parents, cited by the News of the World, find Ms. Crolla’s private life so reprehensible, perhaps they should campaign for the law to be changed rather than demanding punishment be meted out extra judicially for what is actually perfectly legal conduct.

While there may be legitimate scope to question the efficacy of a modelling career with being a teacher, that doesn’t give reactionary parents or scared council officials the right to tread on the rights of an individual who has not offended the only rules that should matter in cases such as this: the law.

There are categories of persons who are, by law, debarred from the teaching profession such as those with convictions for violent or sexual offences. So-called ‘enhanced’ criminal record bureau checks also allow chief police officers to reveal arrests for such offences, even if no conviction was ever secured. However, even an enhanced CRB check doesn’t involve agents of the state passing judgment on the lawful private lives of applicants, at least not yet.

The lack of critical media attention of this incident is almost as alarming as the reactionary stance of the school, and Oldham council, itself. There seems to be little attention being paid to the fact that, in a so-called ‘liberal democracy’, conservative morality is being allowed to usurp the rule of law.

Ms. Crolla has been isolated and forced onto the back foot in this matter. Having first put up the principled argument that her modelling activities were irrelevant to her teaching career, she later claimed that the photos were taken around four years ago and were never intended for public consumption, implicitly accepting the moral self-righteousness of those who deem her personal life to make her unfit to teach.

Ultimately, Ms. Crolla has been barred from her place of work not because she has offended the objective public morality as expressed in the law of the land, but because she has offended the subjective and private morality of a small group of torch and pitchfork wielding parents. The ‘flexible labour market’ of the modern education sector has also let her down since she has not been afforded the protection of a full time contract, nor has the school or local authority so far been checked by the collective strength of the unions. The extra-legal witch-hunt is ongoing.


- 4 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. I agree with the sentiment of your conclusions but am less sure of the principal. Whilst pitch fork wielding mob are never pretty, I tend to take the view that the law should be a statutory reflection of society’s morality and ethics rather than vice versa. There are times when the law lags behind the views of society (censorship battles over novels being a great example) and although in recent history the momentum of social movement has tended to be in the direction of liberalism, it has moved toward conservatism in the past (infamous Victorian priggishness). For a long time, society has been moving away from holding common moral values except in extreme cases (News of the World paedophile hunts) and I think a debate suggesting a reaction against moral relativism is probably a good thing. The delay in converting such views into law is useful to prevent knee jerk reactions (hang ‘em and flog ‘em!) but in principal, shouldn’t the law be a malleable framework in which society operates rather than an imposed order?

    On a side note, its becoming increasingly difficult to separate liberal ideals of equality, liberty etc from politically correct waffle and I think we’re likely to see a natural movement of social views one way or another once the New Labour project and the Human Rights Act settle into common consciousness. Equality across race, gender and sexual preference is certainly laudable but I can’t help but welcome limitations being placed on personal liberty in order to encourage some degree of responsibility toward society to balance out the rights granted by that society. I’m not that bothered about a teacher posing for the papers but if this kind of ire could be applied to less innocuous issues like personal manners, casual violence and other societal diseases then I’m all for it.

    On a side note, its becoming increasingly difficult to seperate liberal ideals of equality, liberty etc from politicaly correct waffle and I think we’re likely to see a natural movement of social views one way or another once the New Labour project and the Human Rights Act settle into common conciousness. Equality across race, gender and sexual preference is certainly laudable but I can’t help but welcome limitations being placed on personal liberty in order to conform with the expectations of society. I’m not that bothered about a teacher posing for the papers but if this kind of ire could be applied to less inocuous issues like personal manners, casual violence and other societal diseases.

    01 Mar 2007, 17:46

  2. Is the state the only legitimate form of collectivity?

    It’s not illegal for a body to discriminate on the basis under question, shouldn’t it be left to that collective to decide whether its actions are just?

    03 Mar 2007, 11:26

  3. George,

    I can see the question that you are setting me up with here, so I will be careful in my response!

    Firstly, the state is the only form of collectivity that has legitimate recourse to violence in a liberal democracy (Weber) and denying someone the right to work is surely a form of indirect violence?

    That is isn’t illegal to discriminate on the basis in question is not entirely clear. Had Ms. Crolla been a regular full time employee then her contract of employment, or her membership of a trade union, would have protected her. It is also possible that her dimissal or supension on such a basis could be construed as a breach of her human rights ala the HR Act / Convention.

    Part of the problem, as I argued, is that the casualisation of the labour market has made individual people very vulnerable to market and employer caprice.

    However, I suppose the crux of your question is about whether I am willing to say whether the state should be able to tell non-state collectivities what to do. Assuming that I am percieved as some sort of Libertarian Communist or such, this would then seem to open me up to a charge of hypocrissy.

    I would say that non-state collectivities, or what liberals call ‘civil society’, should be left to regulate themselves up to the point where that regulation impedes on the social, political and economic rights of others. Stripping someone of their job impedes these rights and therefore should not be allowed by law.

    Adam

    05 Mar 2007, 16:55

  4. I certainly don’t like the sound of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and there are plenty of examples where support for the ‘flexible labour market’ is nothing more than covering up prejudiced and arbitrary management.

    But I think teachers should be role models. If Ms.Crolla continued with her topless side-line, what sort of example would she be setting? What would be the effect on the more flat-chested female pupils at the school?

    I’m not trying to set a trap, just pointing out some dilemmas.

    05 Mar 2007, 20:16


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