Why does it take a murder for right-wingers to start treating state school teachers with respect?

If only right-wing papers and politicians were always as generous to state school teachers as they have been in the past few days to Ann Maguire, the teacher who was stabbed to death by a pupil at a Catholic secondary school in Leeds.

A tribute to Ann Maguire on the school fence at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds. Photo: Getty
A tribute to Ann Maguire on the school fence at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds. Photo: Getty

Ann Maguire, the teacher stabbed to death by a pupil at a Catholic secondary school in Leeds, was dedicated, devout, patient, caring and inspiring, “the mother of the school”, always striving for “excellence”. Those are just a few of the descriptions used by newspapers. And I do not question for one moment that Maguire deserved them.

But that is not how newspapers and politicians, particularly those of right-wing persuasion, normally write about state school teachers. More often, we are told that, enslaved to left-wing ideology, teachers instruct children in atheism and immorality, tolerate low standards and don’t work hard enough.

We shall hear many suggestions about who or what was to “blame” for Maguire’s tragic death. (My answer would be the boy who used the knife, but nobody wants to leave it at that.) Permissive liberal values, welfare benefits, violent video games, social media and the abolition of corporal punishment will, most likely, be among the alleged culprits.

Nobody will mention the routine denigration of teachers by politicians and the media. Yet that must have bear some responsibility for the growing instances of both pupils and parents refusing to accept teachers’ authority and sometimes resorting to violence to make their point.

This is an extract from Peter Wilby's First Thoughts column, which will be published in this week’s magazine. Order your copy now, or subscribe on iPad or iPhone