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The elephant in the schoolroom

Press Release
26 September 2006

The elephant in the schoolroom

Irene Cooper of the NZEI has released new codes of practice for school teachers, allowing some physical contact between teachers and students. Margaret Mooney of the PTA hopes the revised rules will encourage more men to enter the profession.

The new policies are a welcome return toward common sense, spokesperson Brian Robinson says, but there is little cause for celebration.

Shovelling out elephant dung will do little to remove the smell in the room if the elephant itself is ignored. Similarly tinkering with policy will do little for male confidence in the teaching profession if the root cause for the lack of confidence is ignored.

Sue Thorne of the Early Childhood Council has articulated the reasons better than others, in identifying the paedophile hysteria of the 1990s as having caused good men to vacate child care roles over the past decade.

Potential teachers will not be lulled by soothing words. They know that Peter Ellis was convicted of imaginary crimes at the Christchurch Civic creche. And those same potential teachers can see that the "problem of Peter" has been swept under the carpet by educational groups. What confidence can potential teachers have that they will be supported if they were to suffer the same fate as Ellis?

Hysteria cannot be simply wished away. Irene Cooper provides evidence that sex abuse hysteria is still with us when she says that teachers need to be aware that physical contact with children can be misconstrued, and that teachers may become the victims of false allegations because they have somehow "put themselves at risk".

In such a climate of suspicion, male teachers would be wise (for their own welfare, but sadly to the children's detriment) to avoid all touching of children. To encourage men into teaching, educational organisations need to
* affirm the necessity of touching children and
* provide teachers with a strong right to do so and
* provide robust non-judgmental support for any teacher subject to an ambiguous or disputed sexual abuse allegation.

The best way that educational groups can make real change in encouraging meaningful numbers of men to join the preschool and teaching professions is to
* study and understand how and why Peter Ellis was convicted, and
* then make a commitment to advocate for a thorough, independent inquiry into the Christchurch Civic Creche case. Until the government faces up to the need for an inquiry into the creche case, the problem of sex abuse hysteria and false allegations won't go away.

Such action will provide aspiring teachers with real assurance that the "paedophile hysteria of the 1990s" is not still with us, and that teaching is indeed a safe profession.


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