Channel 4 defends use of hidden cameras in schools

A teacher who secretly filmed appalling classroom behaviour for a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary was praised today for exposing the ‘real face’ of the schools where she taught.

The executive producer of C4’s Undercover Teacher, which was broadcast in 2005, told a General Teaching Council panel that Alex Dolan had shown integrity and explored the truth while working at four schools in London and Leeds.

Dolan, from Cambridge, denies an allegation of unacceptable professional conduct brought by the GTC for covertly compiling footage while working as a supply science teacher.

The programme’s executive producer, Allen Jewhurst, told the panel – which has now heard five days of evidence – that the programme was, in his view, definitely in the public interest.

Jewhurst told the hearing: “We were not setting out to humiliate children or teachers.

“We wanted to show the public the real face of what was going on in some of our schools.”

Broadcast in July 2005, the documentary showed pupils fighting in class and running on tables, while others swore in the face of teachers and refused to work.

It also captured alleged attempts by teaching staff to “hoodwink” Ofsted inspectors during a visit to a Leeds school.

Jewhurst told the panel: “We were very keen to expose any such dishonesty by teachers in whatever form it took.”

The producer also described Dolan as a woman of integrity and defended the use of hidden cameras as a “last resort” in the public interest.

“We devised a unique filming system where somebody can film for eight hours without having to do much at all,” the executive said.

“In this instance Alex could totally forget the camera. I don’t think it was possible to capture what we captured doing it any other way.

“There was clearly skullduggery going on. Children were being sent out of the school to help get through Ofsted.

“We had an agenda to see where the truth was to see whether the pupils were being taught properly.”

The documentary was broadcast after clearance from a High Court judge who refused to issue an injunction sought by Leeds City Council, ruling instead that it served important public interests.

The panel also heard from Kevin Sutcliffe, the deputy head of news and current Aaffairs at Channel 4 and the commissioning editor of the Dispatches series, which included Undercover Teacher.

Sutcliffe said he had first met Dolan in 2004 and had discussed with her what she was seeking to do.

“We were interested in exploring the realities of teaching in schools, because it did not appear to chime with the official picture being given of ever-improving schools,” Sutcliffe told the panel.

Sutcliffe said it was clear that the only effective way of investigating attempts to deceive Ofsted was through secret filming.

The editor, who told the panel he had a child at one of the schools investigated by Dispatches, insisted that particular schools were not targeted and that the film was a realistic portrayal of what Miss Dolan found.

“We decided that we could not avoid naming the schools, but otherwise we would do everything possible to protect the schools and individuals within them,” he said.

“During the entire process no concerns were raised about Alex at all.

“We are very proud of the standards that we maintain in the Dispatches documentaries.

“We have done this in a number of difficult and challenging scenarios, including the police force, hospitals and mental health institutions, and we have made a number of important contributions to debates.

“We have not been found wanting in either the regulatory or legal environment to which we are accountable.”

Sutcliffe added: “We do not take the decision to film undercover lightly.

“I would like to express my view that, as a whistle-blower, Alex Dolan carried out a very positive and worthwhile investigation, and that it is unfair and wrong to then discipline the whistle-blower in these circumstances.

“The messenger should not be shot.”

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow.

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