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Yesterdays judgement confirmed what many of us had long suspected. That the Reaganesque sacking of Sharon Shoesmith – live on TV, and before she’d enjoyed the chance to defend herself – constituted a “public sacrifice”. The manner of her departure, at least, was driven not by the urgent interests of child protection, but by the desire for public spectacle.
This should not surprise us. Child protection is always a hot political potato, and – as anybody who was on Facebook at the time will testify – the death of Baby Peter generated a particularly batty reaction. But perhaps more importantly, Ed Balls has consistently demonstrated that, in the arena of child protection, he was completely indifferent to the needs of public servants. What mattered to him was protecting children, and more importantly making the government look like it was doing something to protect children – and within this framework, the rights and well-being of adult workers remained utterly expendable.
It was with this approach, that he brought in the Vetting And Barring Scheme, under which teachers could legally barred from their profession on virtually any pretext – regardless of whether they had broken any law or pre-existing guideline. Under the system he brought in, even the private use of certain kinds of legal pornography was specifically flagged up as a reason to ban teachers. Meanwhile all decisions were to be made were to be made not on the basis of what could be proven, but on the balance of probabilities – quite a risk considering the frequency of false allegations against members of the teaching profession. In other words he brought in a system which he must have known would ruin quite a number of innocent lives. If, as is frequently asserted, Labour is the party of the public sector workforce, then perhaps somebody forgot to tell Mr Balls.
One of the great advances of the post war era was the way in which society stopped sweeping child abuse under the carpet, and children who had suffered began to be believed by people who mattered. Yet with every solution arise new problems, and it would be naive to imagine that this was an exception. Periods of intense concern – such the Satanic Abuse lunacy – have given rise to shocking miscarriags of of justice. More generally, those who work with young people have become increasingly vulnerable to false allegations. According to research by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, nearly 30% of teachers have faced false accusations. This is less surprising when one considers the stormy relationship that many students have with their educators and, to sugarcoat it a little, the somewhat uneven social and ethical development of many adolescents.
Nobody in their right mind would wish to go back to the situation that prevailed decades ago. But teaching unions have for years been crying out for measures to limit the huge damage being done to the careers, and to the well being of public service professionals. It is shameful that they were ignored by Ed Balls, and by the New Labour government in general – and that it took the Tories to step in and make some small but important changes, for the benefit of the innocently accused. After all, if entrepreneurs are heroes to conservatives, then those in the caring and educational professions ought to be valued highly by those of us who want to build the Good Society.
The disregard which Ed Balls showed these people while in office – and the very fact that he considers it acceptable to engage in the summary and televised dismissal of a public servant – is, to say the least, unbecoming of a Labour politician.
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