Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday 3 December 2011

The price of compassion

It would probably be fair to say that teachers do not rank highly in the public sympathy this week, which is unfortunate for this man.

Teacher Martin Davis was suspended for giving a lift home to a 17-year-old pupil who had forgotten his bus fare.

Mr. Davis, a maths and science supply teacher for 23 years and a father of two, was employed by an agency to give one-to-one support to boys with dyslexia in a Newcastle college.

One afternoon in November, one of his pupils approached him and said he had no money for the bus fare home; as he would be passing the boy’s house on his way home, Mr Davis offered him a lift.

“A week later one of the office staff at the college pulled me to one side, having heard about me giving the boy a lift, and said it was a stupid thing to do because I was opening myself to all sorts of allegations.

I said I was sorry and she just told me not to do it again, and that seemed to be the end of the matter.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Davis, it was not; the agency, presumably alerted by college staff, promptly removed him from his job there and suspended him without pay pending further investigation. Official statements have been produced and the words ‘safeguarding’ and ‘procedures’ bandied about in justification.

Career-wrecking events like this happen with depressing regularity, although in this case, at least, there is no question of malicious allegations by a pupil; in fact, according to Mr Davis, the boy concerned was ‘upset and angry’ about the dismissal.

Quite apart from the incongruity of applying child protection policies in this case – the 'child' was old enough to be in full-time employment, join the army or be legally married – I’m shocked by the lack of respect and trust for someone who has dedicated his working life to educating the next generation.

Mr Davis is an experienced teacher whose background must have been repeatedly scrutinised by all the usual CRB checks, yet the protocol treats him as a potential risk to the young man he offered to help. What’s more, one of the office staff at the college considered it acceptable to describe his action as ‘stupid’ and admonish him for it.

What would have happened, I wonder, had Mr Davis followed the approved course of action and the boy, walking home alone after dark, been attacked or met with an accident? It’s a matter of record that young men are far more likely than any other group to be victims of urban violence.

Sadly, I have no doubt that officialdom would shake its collective head in sorrow while affirming that Mr Davis had done the right thing in abandoning him to his fate. However, had the boy failed to make it home that night, I am certain that Mr Davis would not have seen it that way.

Teachers who want to stay in their jobs these days must, like Caesar’s wife, be seen to be above suspicion at all times. Unfortunately, it seems that it sometimes means being above compassion too.


  1. I've Tweeted this, it deserves a wider audience:

    "The results of our obsession with 'paedo panic': http://bit.ly/vtqcd4 Have a /golfclap, MSM... #schools #education"

  2. I've had lifts off teachers when I was at school. None tried to abuse me and none got in trouble.

    When did we become so scared and paranoid

  3. Thank you, Julia. It's important cases like this don't get shoved under the carpet.

    Bucko, there was certainly nothing like this when I was training.I think the Soham murders were a turning point - despite the fact that neither Huntly nor Carr was a teacher.

    The legislation that followed - including enhanced CRB checks - created a climate of fear in which teachers were warned never to be alone with a pupil where they could not be observed.

    Not surprisingly, pupils soon began to exploit the system, and the increased risk of false allegations has made it even more important that teachers should keep their distance.

  4. My wife came across a clergyman who worked with children.

    If they became tried to climb on him during play, as children do, he would immediately stick both arms up in the air. He saw it as a kind of self-defense.

  5. AKH, of necessity, that is sadly an all-too-common practice. The spectre of Child Protection hovers over even the most innocent of interactions, leaving adults afraid to behave naturally.

    What the effect will be on a generation of children who receive no response to their affectionate overtures and are left to cry, uncomforted, when they fall and hurt themselves, only time will tell.


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