All entries for Thursday 01 March 2007

March 01, 2007

Witch Hunt?

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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.

March 2007

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