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

Wednesday 14 June 2023

“I saw [insert name here] with the Devil!”

Another day, another witch-hunt.

This one (updated here) concerns an experienced History teacher in his fifties working in supply who, despite initial reservations, agreed to cover a year 7 science lesson for an absent colleague, teaching from National Curriculum resources on puberty. He thought the lesson had gone well but, at the end of the following day, the supply agency contacted him to tell him there had been a complaint.

Apparently the pupils, two of whom had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, were upset by his attempts to explain and contextualise the information and had accused him of crude gender stereotyping; instead of dealing with it internally and asking him to clarify the matter, the school had reported him directly to the local authority safeguarding body.

The authority immediately cleared him of any wrongdoing (and, he says, ‘criticised the school’) but the head still chose to escalate the matter and referred him to the DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service, the body which clears teachers to work with children - or bans them from doing so). The DBS finally confirmed last week that there was ‘no case to answer’ but the damage has been done; the referral must be reported to all prospective employers for the next five years and, as numerous unjustly wrecked careers will testify, head teachers often prefer to believe there’s no smoke without fire. 

From professional experience, I’d say this whole business smells very odd indeed. Covering a single lesson for an absent colleague in another department almost always means providing supervision while pupils complete set tasks or homework; it is very unusual for a non-specialist cover teacher to be asked to present new material to pupils, let alone deliver a lesson in such a sensitive subject area. 

As for his alleged comments, he is supposed to have crammed a surprisingly large amount of offensive gender-stereotyping into a single lesson and the phraseology sounds interestingly uniform in tone and language register. Mr Higgins describes the allegations as ‘untrue’, taken out of context or the result of a misunderstanding - to that list a cynic might be tempted to add potentially leading questions, unwitting or otherwise, on the part of those investigating the affair.

(On the subject of the reliability of pupil recollection, I was once summoned to explain why a year 7 pupil had written, for homework, a poem about ‘punishment beatings’ and ‘guts hanging on barbed wire’, which he insisted had been the subject of my English lesson. It took the demonstration of twenty-odd rather wobbly but uniformly charming haiku about trees, clouds and flowers to convince the management that, prompted by the mention of Japan, he had spent that part of the lesson daydreaming about his favourite [and completely age-inappropriate] WWII computer game).

All in all, it looks suspiciously like a set-up; a humanities supply teacher instructed to deliver a science lesson - on puberty, of all things! - without being informed that the class contained two pupils with gender dysphoria. For the head teacher then to ignore the findings of the local authority safeguarding committee and go directly to the DBS - a course of action usually reserved for serious concerns about sexual or physical abuse - suggests that someone was determined to ensure Mr Higgins would never teach again. 

It’s always possible that a young or inexperienced head was manipulated by a cabal of aggressively self-righteous pupils (the world of ‘The Crucible’ gets closer every day; it’s worth bearing in mind that the real Abigail Williams was only twelve years old) but, based on the hostility of some younger colleagues towards those of us deemed deficient in virtue-signalling fervour* and their apparent lack of any sense of humour (or proportion), I would not rule out the possibility that Mr Higgins, possibly unwittingly, gave offence to a militant activist among the staff (or senior management) who decided, for the greater good, to remove him from the profession by any means possible, including exploiting his willingness to help a colleague by teaching a lesson completely outside his area of expertise.

*As an illustration, I once had to defend myself against another teacher’s accusation of endorsing misogyny and promoting ‘toxic masculinity’’ while teaching ‘Of Mice and Men’, a GCSE set text; apparently, when quoting from the text, I failed to include sufficient condemnation of Steinbeck’s attitude to women. (I should, perhaps, point out that I am, unequivocally, female).


  1. Perhaps our victim could report the head teacher to the same group or any other group. Even if they have to make something up. He only made the complaint because he propositioned me and i rejected him for example.

    I'd approach a solicitor because it appears a malicious complainer can get something on a permanent record even after it has been reviewed and rejected. That isn't right.

    1. It isn’t right at all but I suspect it’s because no one wants to take responsibility for having the allegation taken off the books in case some later wrongdoing emerges.

      Mr Higgins does not appear to have been a member of a union (I’ve written extensively here about why teachers - myself included - might make that difficult choice) but it’s hard to see how a union - or a solicitor - could help when Safeguarding and the DBS have cleared him. Sadly, an allegation taken to outside agencies often means the end of a career whatever the outcome but it is notoriously difficult to make a case for financial compensation for loss of potential earnings.

  2. From the outside, it surprises me that teachers still teach and don't leave en masse. They seem to have too little protection against fashionable malice and too few sanctions available to them. Bus driver sounds more attractive to me.

    From what our grandson tells me, there are pupils who appear to adopt gender dysphoria as a fashion statement, possibly because it also gives them a certain amount of power over the whole school, including the staff.

    1. The teacher shortages beginning to make the news suggest that a quiet exodus is under way. Many of my colleagues (including heads of department in shortage subjects) have decided to take early retirement in spite of the considerable financial sacrifices involved.

      The current climate is systematically weeding out principled and dedicated teachers and replacing them with the sort of career-minded zealots who are always on the lookout for virtue-signalling opportunities. I’m beginning to think that the sooner the curriculum is handed over to AI robots the better.

    2. Re power: I’ve recently come across the term ‘alpha pupils’, a concept I had never encountered before, in connection with this. It’s worrying that it is so widespread there is actually a term for it.


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