Oh No! It’s ratemycolumnist.com

Accountability. We all support it and we all fear it. What if you’re having an off day? What if the inspector is biased or having an off day? What happens if you flunk the test?

The Irish Independent carried a story recently that out of 50,000 teachers working in primary and secondary schools, only one has been sacked for incompetence over the past few years.

I have a rule of thumb. Ten percent out of every profession are useless, be they teachers, journalists, priests, politicians, carpenters, cooks or whatever.

Ok, this is pretty crude but the idea that any profession is immune from incompetence is also pretty crude.

Of course, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that only one teacher got marching orders either, because in most cases this is done discreetly through re-assignment or early retirement. Principals and Boards of Management do the thing decently for people who have often given very good service but perhaps have personal problems or whatever. That’s fair enough.

But now the present accountability of teachers is under attack from a number of quarters.

Most notorious is the ratemyteachers.ie website where students are allowed to post comments online about their teachers. This is a good idea but a bad practice for the very simple reason that it replaces one form of unaccountability with another.

Firstly, the posts are anonymous, which is one of the most controversial issues on the net. Second, the posts are outside the laws of libel so that innocent teachers can be subjected to the worse kind of scurrilous comment and accusations without any kind of redress.

I hope this is a fad that will fade away. But in some ways the teachers, and the teaching unions in particular, have brought this unofficial assessment down on themselves because they doggedly refuse to accept any official accountability. Their opposition to school league tables is a case in point.

They point out that simply listing schools by results is unfair. Sure we all know that. The point is that people are entitled to information without the presumption of stupidity and these tables are only the starting point for a genuine assessment of school and teacher performance.

You have to wonder about the impotence of the State on this issue. It is not impossible to trace people on the internet. Internet Service Providers can be made liable for the content that they carry.

Imagine if some maniac posted a letterbomb to someone in Ireland. Would the State just claim that, as it originated from abroad, there is nothing they can do about it? What about paedophile sites?

It’s romantic to see the internet as a zone of freedom safe from the law. But it also allows all sorts of thugs and creeps to prey on all sorts of vulnerable people. The internet has to be accountable too – it’s not good enough for government ministers to shrug their shoulders.

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