Earlier this week, several newspapers and broadcasters covered a story about indiscipline in Scottish schools.
There were negative sides to the story, since concerns were raised within the Ipsos Mori report about the rise in incidents of violence and abuse experienced by secondary teachers.
There was a detailed analysis of the growing inappropriate use of smartphones in classrooms and the difficulties teachers have in maintaining order in the face of this new phenomenon.
We were even told girls were more likely than boys to spread malicious gossip through social networking sites such as Facebook.
There was also a great deal of positive behaviour highlighted in the research, with the vast majority of pupils being well-behaved and coming to school ready to work.
So far so good, but the fact that any of this information came into the wider public domain was an accident.
The Scottish Government, which commissioned the report – the most significant research on behaviour in schools since 2009 – decided not to tell anyone in the mainstream media about its findings.
It was slipped on to the publications section of the Scottish Government website at 4pm on Tuesday, on a day when most education correspondents were busy covering the aftermath of the three-hour education committee at the Scottish Parliament that morning on college and university funding.
The Scottish Government education press office is well staffed. There are at least five members of the team who deal with day-to-day inquiries.
There are only three education correspondents in the whole of Scotland covering national stories on a daily basis. None were alerted in advance that this major piece of research was to be published. None were told on the day of the publication’s release on to the website. There was no accompanying press briefing to discuss the finer points, explain the trends or highlight the positives.
Fortunately, an eagle-eyed member of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union happened to be browsing the website that afternoon and, fortunately, that individual alerted the organisation’s press officer, who acted promptly to issue a press release. Later, the Scottish Conservative Party also issued a statement and newspapers and broadcasters swung into action.
It is important to stress that the issue here is not about being handed news on a plate. All the education journalists in Scotland routinely break their own exclusives and do not need the Scottish Government, or any other organisation, to drip-feed stories in order to survive.
It is also accepted that there are some media outlets who care little about facts and use stories of this nature to attack the Government, whether it is merited or not.
Perhaps it was the Scottish Government's intention to obviate this by giving the report to a publication deemed less antagonistic, or with a more specialised readership of teachers.
Regardless, I believe it is an insult to the democratic process and the right of the mainstream press to disseminate information to the wider public when a major report of this nature is seen as something that can be buried because aspects of it are deemed “negative” to those in power.
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