Q: Why are so many education bloggers anonymous?

A: Because they wish to keep their jobs.

There has been much debate about the ethics of being an anonymous blogger. Are people using the cloak of anonymity because they are being lazy, embellishing the truth, or merely being sly? Or is it because they simply don’t feel safe putting their name to their opinions?

Andrew Old has written some detailed explanations as to why he chooses to blog anonymously. He is quite clear in his view that to reveal his true identity would be detrimental to his career. He is probably right.

By giving a clear picture of life in school, a teacher risks losing their job, or being banned from the profession altogether. Two of the examples he cites are Angela Mason and Alex Dolan (links given by Old Andrew). Both of these teachers secretly filmed life inside the classes they were covering, and the footage was then combined into two documentaries. In each of those, both violence and verbal abuse are clearly shown.

The rationale behind the filming was that the general public are in blissful ignorance of the state of behavioral meltdown in some schools, and that by filming a documentary this would be brought into the wider public domain. What happened instead, was that both teachers were hauled before the GTC (the now defunct regulatory body), and banned from teaching for a year.

In Angela Mason’s case, the GTC judgement was based on the premise that she had committed a breach of trust, thereby not adhering to the expected standards by which teachers must abide.

Mrs Mason admitted carrying out the secret filming for a channel Five documentary, but said she had acted in the public interest.

The  teachers’ professional body said she had committed a breach of trust.

The BBC article makes it clear that she was deliberately filming for the purposes of producing a documentary. Whether or not you agree with her intentions is a personal matter, what is not debatable though, is the clear message the GTC gave in its judgement.

At the hearing in Birmingham, the GTC ruled the public interest defence was not strong enough to justify the breach of trust implicit in the secret filming.

Issuing the judgment, Andrew Baxter – the chair of the GTC committee – said that secretly filming students would constitute unacceptable professional conduct in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

By bringing her concerns (and the evidence for them) into a public arena, Angela Mason was guilty of breach of trust. The fault was solely hers.

And the bad behaviour? Shhh… don’t mention that….

When teachers write a blog, they too are making a public statement about their working environment. If they are critical of this, they put themselves in a precarious position. Essentially, they are whistleblowing, but without any of the protection that usually conveys.

The Government website is quite clear about the protocols that have to be followed by the whistleblower.

  1. The worker should check their employment contract or ask human resources/personnel if their company has a whistleblowing procedure.

  2. If they feel they can, they should contact their employer about the issue they want to report

  3. If they can’t tell their employer, they should contact a ‘prescribed person or body’.

The website then gives a list of the ‘Prescribed Persons or Bodies’ that whistleblowers should contact. All well and good, but who do teachers contact on that list? Very often the local authority is part and parcel of the problem. Yes, a teacher could contact their local MP or the Secretary of State, but what, realistically, are their chances of success?

By putting their name to a blog, the teacher is making the school at which they work (and by association, the pupils they teach) identifiable – they are ‘breaching trust’. If they are critical of the school, or highlight problems they encounter, they are making a public declaration of their working conditions – they are whistleblowing.

It is therefore inevitable that many teachers simply feel they cannot do this, the risk is too great.

Anonymous bloggers should not be vilified for their decision, instead the question why they need to do this should be asked. Assuming that anonymous posts are somehow less accurate than named ones misses the point, often the very opposite is true. A number of the named bloggers are not classroom teachers, they are consultants or in management. By the very nature of their posts they are in a position of power where they can change things, but the classroom teacher is not.

Speaking out when your job isn’t on the line is easy, speaking out when it is, is a very risky proposal.

Ironically, the Government website gives a definition of whistleblowing:

Officially this is called ‘making a disclosure in the public interest

It’s rather at odds with the judgement given by the GTC in the Angela Mason case, isn’t it?

 

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4 Responses to Q: Why are so many education bloggers anonymous?

  1. bt0558 says:

    “It’s rather at odds with the judgement given by the GTC in the Angela Mason case, isn’t it?”

    I don’t see the conflict personally.

    “secretly filming students would constitute unacceptable professional conduct in all but the most exceptional circumstances.”

    This seems a reasonable statement to me.

    “Are people using the cloak of anonymity because they are being lazy, embellishing the truth, or merely being sly?”

    Not usually in my experience.

    “Or is it because they simply don’t feel safe putting their name to their opinions?”

    In my experience yes.

    Do all anonymous bloggers ensure that they exercise the responsibilities towards others that come with anonymity?

    In my experience, not always.

    Is this problematic?

    In my view…yes.

  2. I’m intrigued by your thought that anonymous bloggers don’t exercise responsibility to others when they blog, in what way do you think this? Do you mean that they embellish, or that they reveal too much identifying detail?

    I think that anonymous blogging is important because it lets teachers tell the true story (or their perception of it) of the reality that they encounter. If they blogged under their own name, their school would be identifiable, and by extension, so would their pupils. I think you would agree that would be unacceptable without permission. Even where permission is obtained, care is often taken to ensure that no-one else recognises the child being mentioned – Sue Cowley has mentioned the steps she has taken to maintain anonymity for the children (http://suecowley.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/kids-make-great-copy/).

    By being anonymous. a teacher can give a far more realistic picture of the children, the school, the management structure and the problems encountered. Not many teachers are in a position to discuss policies or school politics without risking their jobs. Again, it also protects all involved.

    My comment about the GTC ruling was with regard to the definition of whistleblowing, not the filming. According to the government it is officially defined as ‘making a disclosure in the public interest’. Whistleblowers (theoretically) have protection from dismissal or disciplinary procedures when they make a disclosure as it is ‘in the public interest’. The GTC, however, ruled that ‘the public interest defence was not strong enough to justify the breach of trust…’ To me this implies that making a disclosure does not give you the protection afforded to people in other professions, as it is outweighed by the ‘breach of trust’ clause.

    Essentially, it’s a no-win situation. In order to produce evidence of the problem, a teacher would be guilty of breach of trust for obtaining and publicising that evidence.

  3. mjp6034 says:

    Interesting article. Just one thing though, it seems to be built on the premise that anonymous bloggers will never be ‘outed’ and that anonymity is therefore a total solution. But anonymous bloggers do get identified… particularly once their blogs get very popular…. See the case of the anonymous police blogger Nightjack
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/shortcuts/2012/feb/08/police-blogger-night-jack-fair-cop
    Once a teacher was identified as the author of the blog, all of the disciplinary and legal problems you list above would come back to haunt them.

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