Lorraine Kelly: It’s one of the toughest jobs – that’s why we can’t let our teachers down

Matthew Mountford

NO-ONE wants to go back to the bad, old days when kids were regularly hit by teachers with a fat, wooden duster or given the belt across their outstretched hands.

I remember how sore it was to be hit across the palms with that big, black leather strap, and a direct hit from what was basically a block of wood used to clean the blackboard was no joke either.

When I was at primary school in Glasgow I was always getting the belt for talking in the playground when were lined up in twos to walk back into the classroom after playtime.

I was lucky enough to have some brilliant teachers but there were also some who were a bit too fond of tweaking a pupil’s ear or giving them a thump. Getting the belt left you in horrible pain and if the teacher was particularly heavy-handed you could end up numb from the elbows down.

Quite rightly, corporal punishment is no longer acceptable, but I do think the teacher who now has a criminal record and was sacked for “tapping a pupil on the head” was treated unfairly.

Obviously, I wasn’t in the classroom so I don’t know exactly what happened when teacher Matthew Mountford asked one of his pupils to stop talking during a lesson. When the youngster kept on talking, his teacher claimed he tapped him lightly on the head and told him to get on with his work.

The school and the pupil cannot be named for legal reasons, but Mr Mountford has had his name dragged through the mud. He was accused of assault, lost his job and was reported to the police by the father of the boy who also wanted to claim compensation for his “injuries”.

It’s been a nightmare for Mr Mountford and his family.

The school looked into the incident which was taken seriously because there had been physical contact between the teacher and pupil, something that is not tolerated no matter the circumstances.

Mr Mountford thought that the worst that would happen would be a verbal or written warning from the school, but he was utterly devastated when the boy’s father wanted a far greater punishment and went to the police.

Mr Mountford was asked to come to the station to give a statement and then found himself in court facing an assault charge.

As there had been physical contact he couldn’t do anything other than plead guilty.

He was given a six-month community order, told to do 40 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay court costs. Despite having the support of the National Union of Teachers, he was later sacked from his job. However, the National College for Teachers have said that his actions were not serious enough for a ban and he can work as a teacher again.

There’s been a petition set up by pupils to have him back in the school where he worked for 12 years with an exemplary record.

He has been described as one of the best teachers in the school.

Mr Mountford is rather bruised by the whole experience and is not sure if he wants to stand up in front of a classroom again.

And who can blame him?

I’m sure this could have all been sorted out with a bit of commonsense.

Obviously a teacher assaulting a pupil is appalling and must result in the appropriate and proper punishment.

In this case, however, although Mr Mountford was technically in the wrong, and admitted that he shouldn’t have touched the pupil in question at all, it does appear to be an overreaction by all concerned.

In a separate incident, a head teacher this week criticised parents who don’t back teachers when their children misbehave in class.

Louise McGowan, who is quitting her job as head of a Kent school this summer, hit out at parents who she believes always take their child’s side, even when it is proven the youngster in question is breaking the rules, sometimes persistently.

Teachers there have also been subject to abuse by parents.

She claims it makes their job very difficult and undermines their authority and she’s clearly exasperated and frustrated by such unhelpful attitudes.

I think being a teacher is one of the most valuable jobs that anyone could ever do. It’s also one of the most underrated as well as the toughest, especially nowadays when it is far more difficult to maintain discipline and order in the classroom and far too many children don’t have proper respect.

Teachers need support in difficult situations and I do think there are far too many cases where they are badly let down.