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How Educational Progressives are still trying to silence those who disagree. Part 2

May 19, 2018

This is a follow up to this post, and is the second of three posts about attempts to silence educational traditionalists online.

In the last year or two, I have seen an apparent rise in the use of legal threats against educational traditionalists. It’s probably worth bearing in mind when reading what follows that, legally, something can only be defamatory if it is untrue. Or at least that’s how I understand it, but obviously don’t take my legal advice, I’m not a lawyer. Opinions, even insults, are not defamation if they do not make false claims.

When Greg Ashman wrote a blogpost observing that a consultant who claimed there was “no best way to teach” had been the leader on OFSTED inspections where traditional teaching was criticised, a blog comment made the following threats:

The blog is defamatory and posting libel via social media (The writer has linked to this blog post on Twitter), or anywhere else, can have consequences.

I have *never* in any of my many inspections transferred any bias (I have none, regarding teaching methods, have developed the hashtag #nobestwayoverall which supports that and I support ‘Trad’ teaching, in context. There is valuable methodology in ‘trad’.) into any inspection I ever led, or in which I was a team member. This is simply a personal attack to support the writer’s belief that Ofsted inspectors transfer anti-‘trad’ views to inspection and he’s picked on me to try to illustrate that, as I don’t believe ‘Trad’ is the best way overall.

I would like this blog to be removed. If the author would like to contact me by email, or by DM on Twitter, we can sort this amicably; or he can delete the blog.

Repeated requests to identify any actual falsehoods in the post did not get anywhere and no case was brought. Another progressive claimed “I’m investigating the potential for defamation in his actions” when Greg criticised project based learning. Again, no case was brought.

A little over a year ago I blogged about the case of “Teaching Newbie”, a trainee teacher who blogged and tweeted about her experiences as a TA and as a trainee. After a visit to Michaela school in which she praised their behaviour system for being “no excuses”. She mentioned a couple of bloggers who had made comments critical of such systems. She mentioned one who had said

“there’s a thing called ‘no excuses’ is the wrong way to open up a discussion, in my opinion. Assumes the worst about kids”

and another who had said that such systems were:

“Entirely without compassion”

Teaching Newbie was then told in her blog comments by one of the bloggers and by a PGCE tutor (who she didn’t know personally) on Twitter that she could be sued for defamation. This threat was ridiculous, but the PGCE tutor was insistent telling Teaching Newbie she had put herself in “personal danger”. You cannot be sued for disagreeing with people, but she removed the name of these two bloggers, while refusing to remove her own opinions. When this failed to silence Teaching Newbie, the PGCE tutor then told Teaching Newbie that bloggers could be easily identified; that her context was “identifiable”, that her ” blog and identity can be easily traced”. Given the context of the conversation, this was intimidating enough for Teaching Newbie to delete her Twitter account and blog.

When I wrote about this incident, I was kind enough to avoid mentioning the PGCE tutor’s name, so as to avoid a Twitter witch hunt and as far as I can tell I stuck entirely to the facts. She wrote a number of comments on that blogpost, identifying herself and making comments such as:

All I can say is that fair minded people with a smallish number of followers will not be frightened by the Twitter big hitters and will seek recourse to legal procedures if necessary

If you had the slightest concern of in any way inciting or being privy to inciting a witch hunt surely you could have been laying yourself and others open to criminal charges. I have spent much time in the last days seeking legal/police advice.

If you continue to accuse me of bullying which is a highly serious accusation, without substantiated evidence I will contact my local police. I have no qualms about doing this. … So your accusations of bullying have no substance and I construe them as malicious in an attempt to damage me. As I say it is your choice if you truly and legally stand by your accusations. Otherwise I shall contact my local police shortly.

I am following professional advice here on dealing with on line attack. This is not bullying but my legal right to defend myself against unfounded allegations. We all know that the advice given to people in this situation is to inform the local police.

Again, where threats of legal action were mentioned, I asked for details of anything I had said that was factually wrong and got nowhere. While I understand that the writer of the intimidating comments claims they were just giving friendly advice, they were not interpreted as such by Teaching Newbie. Teaching Newbie had not asked for advice from somebody who had previously supported threats to sue her for defamation and had apparently taken the time to identify Teaching Newbie and work out what harm revealing her identity might do. I dismissed the legal threats and threats to contact the police and thought that would be the end of it. I even joked about it.

A few weeks later I received (as an email attachment) a letter from somebody working for a firm of solicitors quoting various comments (one of which was not even about their client) telling me that:

Whilst you have attempted to justify the publications you have made, we do not consider that you would have any defence under the Defamation Act 2013…. our client would like this matter to be resolved We therefore request that you remove your comments in relation to our client from your blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts and provide our client with an apology by 4.00 pm on Wednesday 21 June 2017

It seemed to me the main claim in the letter, that “It is clear from your comments that you were not just accusing our client of engaging in bullying behaviour but you also accused our client of being a bully” was false. As a teacher, I’m very familiar with phrasing things so as to describe a child’s bad behaviour rather than labelling the child as bad. But I’m not a lawyer, and believing something is false and proving it in court is not the same thing. So I contacted a solicitor recommended by somebody I knew from Twitter, and paid for them to respond on my behalf. I’m not saying the reply my solicitor sent was dismissive, but it began by describing the original complaint as “bemusing” and ended by suggesting that if she really wanted the consequences of bringing an unfounded claim “your client should issue proceedings forthwith”.

The only response received through official channels claimed “our client is ….currently considering her further options in respect of this matter” and that was the end of the involvement by lawyers. Some pretty strange stuff appeared on social media afterwards. Really strange. Some of it was still threatening. A lot of it was just silly. Narratives appeared in which sending me legal threats was an act of great heroism. My favourite version of the story was the conspiracy theory in which my lawyers acted for free (they didn’t) because of their mysterious connections to an online publication.

All I know is that one edutwitter progressive thought it a great idea to tell a part-time teacher earning £21 grand a year that, unless they deleted their opinions, they could face legal action which could cost tens or hundreds of thousands to defend against. They also thought it okay not to withdraw the threat or apologise but instead leave the teacher with the worry that it could be carried out at any time. And they did so because they were so offended at the suggestion they were the sort of person who made threats to silence teachers. If I hadn’t thought and said that before, I can certainly say that now.

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4 comments

  1. […] Teaching in British schools « How Educational Progressives are still trying to silence those who disagree. Part 2 […]


  2. Of you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. I dare say “pot kettle black”!


  3. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.



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