Comment: When it's right to say no to a night of cider with Rosie

Just as bad teachers should be forced to leave the profession, so should those who sleep with their pupils
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The Independent Culture
I WAS 19, she was 16. The Scottish stars were bright, the cider was strong. That night in Rosie's tent (no, I'm not making this up) we giggled, tickled and smooched. But the occasional desultory foray by raiding fingertips into soft borderlands was eventually stopped for three good reasons. The first was exhaustion, the second (after two weeks under canvas without bath or shower) was hygiene, and the third, decisive one was that I was abusing a position of trust, and I knew it.

I was reminded of Rosie by the words of Lady Young, who later today plans once more to oppose the passage of the Sexual Offences Bill in the House of Lords. Lady Young objects to the provision lowering the age of consent for homosexual sex between males. Her reasoning (if such it may be called) for leading her crusty peers in one last undemocratic revolt is that boys and girls are different. "A lot of boys at 16," she argues, "are less mature than girls at that age and are often quite ambivalent about their sexuality."

But if Baroness Young is right, then logically, one of two things must follow. Either thousands of poor, inherently gay boys are being dragged away from their true inclinations by predatory females exploiting their "ambivalence", only to pay the price later when, as married men, they realise the awful mistake they have made. Or else homosexuality is simply a great deal more attractive to teenage boys than sex with girls, and thousands of years of social taboos have existed to try and ensure that as few lads as possible discover this terrible, natural truth.

Lady Young, however, can be excused some confusion in her argument - for this business of when and with whom young people can be allowed to have sex, is (as I intuited that night with Rosie) a genuinely difficult one. While we can differ on whether the law serves any useful purpose in regulating sexual activity between youngsters, (I don't believe that it does), most of us wish to prevent the sexual exploitation by adults of kids.

It is presumably for that reason, in another fit of have-problem-must- legislate, the Government included in this bill a measure that will make illegal any sexual relations between 16- and 17-year-olds, and adults in a position of trust. As far as I can tell, almost no one is opposing this provision, which could see erring teachers, care workers, scoutmasters, Arkelas, Baloos, Brown Owls and suchlike, banged up in the slammer for up to two years should they stray.

Strangely, the unintended first casualty of this provision has been the professional reputation of Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead. Mr Woodhead is a stern man, whose zeal on behalf of school standards is physically emphasised by hair worn in a strange, carved, helmet-like cut - a style that you do not find photographically advertised outside Toni & Guy's.

No one, it seems, much loves him. Except, perhaps, those that shouldn't. A couple of months ago, just after the execution of Glenn Hoddle for incorrect religious views, it transpired that Mr Woodhead had spoken tolerantly of teachers who had sex with their pupils. He said they were unwise and wrong, but went on: "I think human beings can get themselves into messes and I think those messes can sometimes be experiential and educative on both sides." It sounded like a rare moment of fellow feeling.

Woodhead's words were clearly not a sin on the same scale as believing in reincarnation, so the hubbub died down a little. Until, that is, Adultery News (aka The Mail on Sunday) revealed what many thought they had long known, which was that Woodhead had had, when a young teacher, a relationship with a pupil. Both he and the woman in question have denied that the affair took place while she was at the Gordano School near Bristol. According to them, it all started later. And there is, claims Mr Woodhead (rightly), an "enormous difference between having a relationship after a teacher has stopped teaching a pupil and having an affair with that pupil while a teaching relationship is still going on".

The trouble is that Mr Woodhead's ex-wife Cathy and several friends and colleagues of hers say that the chief inspector is not being truthful. Cathy Woodhead has promised a legal action against her former husband if David Blunkett refuses to look into the details she has so helpfully supplied.

Now, let us suppose (though we cannot know it) that the affair did indeed take place when the young Woodhead and his gym-slipped inamorata were both at the same school. Would that mean that he should not be Chief Inspector of Schools? Would lying about it (to the newspapers and his boss) be sufficient grounds for a sacking? If he had been guilty, should he then have been drummed out of the profession? Or should he, as the Government now insists, also have been open to criminal prosecution?

Let us take these questions in reverse order. Like the well-respected General Secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, David Hart, I am opposed to creating a category of consensual sexual relationship between those who are legally adults, which the law then prohibits.

But I part company from Mr Hart in the exculpatory tone of his remarks about how, sometimes, pupils lead teachers on. Any teacher who is so incontinent as to be unable to control their urges is not one that parents or colleagues can trust. And any teacher, who is so weak that they succumb to the advances of their pupils is not fit to be left in charge of a class. While this is not a criminal matter, it most certainly is a professional one. I can't imagine why there should be exceptions.

This is what the tough-talking Mr Woodhead should have told that conference: that just as bad teachers should be forced to leave the profession, so should those who sleep with their pupils. But for some reason he didn't. Now, I would not, were I Mr Blunkett, sack Chris Woodhead for lying about his private life. If, however, back in the mid-Seventies, Mr Woodhead did indeed sleep with a pupil when he was in loco parentis, then he was not fit to be a teacher then, and cannot possibly be a credible adjudicator of professional standards now. Unless, of course, he repents.

The 19-year-old Aaronovitch, a supervisor at a large camp for kids, had (unlike teachers) little training, and he had only been warned in an oblique way to keep his hands off the older merchandise. But the dreary morning following the curtailed night, the humane and wise leader of the camp - an old socialist who rejoiced in the nickname Beefy - gave me a hard, long look. He was disappointed in me, and hoped - without asking - that I had not let things go too far.

I hadn't. I didn't require the beak to stop me drinking too much cider with Rosie. But I had needed a bit of self-control.