The price of speaking out – a courageous headteacher puts his head above the parapets

On a number of occasions, both during and post the pandemic, faced with overwhelming professional compliance and collusion, I have expressed my despair and dismay. As best I can see and I have scoured the mainstream and alternative media for dissident voices, almost to a person, the education profession has collaborated with utterly unnecessary draconian restrictions on children’s and young people’s lives. I remain perplexed that teachers, play and youth workers, together with lecturers claiming as a result of their training to be politically informed and critically reflective could acquiesce with scarcely a murmur to a shoddily evidenced, glaringly opportunist and organised global intervention that mocked the very notion of sovereign democratic states. To add to my perplexion education professionals, amongst others, are prone to waxing lyrical about the importance of ethics, of codes come to that, yet they remained silent, nay colluded with the unethical campaign of fear concocted by SAGE’s unholy team of behavioural psychologists.

Perhaps most upsetting is that we now observe a profession in denial. Contradictorily, given the less than unusual coronavirus was marketed as an existential threat to humanity, it’s almost as if nothing much happened really. Apparently, there’s no need for any of that reflective malarkey, better the well-worn brush under the carpet. Thinking only of my old back garden in Youth Work, I suspect I will wait in vain for the appearance of any self-critical piece, ‘What Did We Do In The COVID War?’ from the likes of the National Youth Agency, the Centre for Youth Impact, the Training Agencies or the trade unions.

Without a hint of embarrassment, it’s business as usual after the unusual. There’s an unsaid caveat though. If anything unusual, as decided by our betters, does come up, we will again do as we are told and keep our mouths shut – for the common good, I’m sure. For what it’s worth I think, this would be tragic. These are not normal times. More emergencies await us. More than ever we need to talk openly to one another without the fear of being wrong, trashed or smeared.

I take comfort and inspiration from the following.

The price of speaking out

The author of this article is Mike Fairclough, a headteacher who blew the whistle on what he felt were serious safeguarding concerns about the impact of Covid interventions on children. Though whistleblowers are in principle protected by the law, he has been repeatedly smeared and victimised for voicing his concerns. Here he tells his story.

There is a great deal of discussion in the media about free speech and censorship. What are we allowed to talk about and who has the authority to silence us? Particularly in the wake of the pandemic — a period which saw increased anxiety about the consequences of expressing our opinions or even asking questions about the government’s response to Covid — but also around issues such as sex education in schools and identity politics, the closing down of debate has created a damaging culture of self-censorship. Worryingly, this has influenced many adults to put their own self-preservation ahead of the needs of children. 

As the headteacher of a UK junior school, and a parent of four children, I saw it as my moral duty to speak out about my concerns regarding the catastrophic harms that the pandemic policy was doing to my pupils — from school closures and remote learning, masks, cancellations of children’s sports and lives, and then of course the drive to vaccinate children against Covid.

My approach has always been to weigh the benefits of these interventions against the known risks and safeguarding flags.  As regards the Covid vaccines, my assessment was simply that we shouldn’t apply a  medical intervention to children unless there is a clear benefit and a proven safety record — a view which until 2020 would have been seen not only as a reasonable position, consistent with medical ethics, but a position against which to argue would have been considered extreme.  It was clear early on that for healthy children there was minimal risk from the virus and therefore no, or only very minimal, clinical benefit from the vaccine; and critically there was, and is still, no long-term safety data. 

So it was my honestly held view as a parent and headteacher that the roll-out to children constituted a potentially serious safeguarding issue, and that I was legally as well as morally obliged to voice my concerns about this.  People who work in education are obliged to attend annual safeguarding training which informs us that we must report all safeguarding concerns.  Indeed,  attempting to prevent unnecessary harm to children is a legal requirement within my profession.  The professional who turns a blind eye to abuse is held equally accountable, even if not directly enacting the harm themselves. Silence is never an option.

However, my experience of becoming a whistleblower on these safeguarding issues — lockdowns and masks as much as vaccines — is one of relentless attacks and smears both online and in the press, frequently being mis-labelled as an “anti-vaxxer”, and enduring multiple attempts to silence me.

My employer has supported three investigations into my conduct, following whistleblowing complaints relating to views I had expressed about child safeguarding.  Indeed, the most recent unfounded allegation involved the complainants reporting me to the Department for Education’s Counter Extremism team as well as to Ofsted.  Results of an FOI request reveal that I have also been monitored by the UK Counter Disinformation Unit. 

Although I have been cleared of any wrong-doing on all occasions, following independent investigations, these attacks have inevitably taken their toll on me. My nineteen-year career as a headteacher has been overwhelmingly successful up until this point. My employer, Ofsted and the DfE have always supported my educational innovations and celebrated the achievements of the school prior to this time. However, I am now perceived as an extremist and a troublemaker, despite being cleared of the radical allegations against me. I have also been told by former colleagues that I deserve to be punished and should never have spoken out. It appears that any criticism of the government in relation to its pandemic response and its effects on children is seen as a form of blasphemy by devout followers of the orthodox Covid consensus. 

Some of those colleagues believe I was wrong to even question the vaccine roll-out to children because, they tell me, children needed to be vaccinated in order to protect vulnerable adults. I go to sleep thinking about the situation, I dream about it and then wake up in the morning worrying about it again. As a result, my health has suffered in ways which I have never before experienced. I have lost weight, have a constant knot in the pit of my stomach and feel agitated and low much of the time. My personal relationships have also suffered and it feels like every aspect of my life has taken a hit. All because I did my job by blowing the whistle about my safeguarding concerns for the children in my care.  This is something which I should be protected for doing, not attacked for, provided I have acted in good faith. I don’t regret speaking out but I won’t pretend that it has been an easy ride.

Along the way, I have received support from many people, including fellow headteachers and others within my profession, albeit almost always in private messages and secretive whispers. These people have thanked me for voicing my opinions but said that they have been too fearful to speak out themselves. Sometimes they have pointed to the attacks which I have faced as the reason for their silence. I have been grateful for their encouragement but I feel it’s now important for everyone to find their voice. If we see a safeguarding concern regarding children’s health and wellbeing we have a moral obligation to report it. I will emphasise again, it is also a legal duty within the education profession to do this. 

In the shadow of this pandemic I believe we all now need to empower ourselves, and each other, to speak up and speak out, rather than simply leaving it to others to fight our corner.  Nowhere is this need more urgent than in the context of safeguarding for children.

As a career educator, I have a strongly held philosophical belief in the importance of critical thinking and in freedom of speech. I challenge orthodoxies when I encounter them and then publicly share my thoughts, always careful to maintain respect for other people’s differing views and trying always to remain open to changing my existing opinions.

I don’t suggest this is a new idea: educators and thinkers have adopted this approach to life for millennia, with philosophers such as Socrates using this method of thinking and communicating since the time of ancient Greece. And yet, though we like to think that we live in an advanced and progressive liberal democracy, we now find that challenging orthodoxies has become one of the greatest taboos. Critical thinking is frequently assigned to the realms of the conspiracy theorist and pointing out the obvious can become a punishable offence with sanctions delivered both by zealous authorities and by our fellow citizens.

There is an increasing number of people who now say that they opposed many of the government’s pandemic responses but didn’t make their views public at the time. Individuals who had recognised the potential harms caused by lockdowns, masks or the vaccine mandates but stayed silent. The minority who did speak openly about their concerns were often attacked, which no doubt will have played a part in others’ self-censorship. But, if more people had publicly voiced their concerns, I’m sure we could have collectively prevented at least some of the unnecessary harms unleashed on us, and on our children. 

This is why it is so important that we create a cultural landscape within which different opinions can be freely expressed. And I believe that we each have a significant role to play in bringing this about. Speaking our truth about controversial or sensitive subjects and ending this culture of self-censorship and fear. If we don’t do this, we risk repeating the mistakes of the past few years. Watching in silence at harms taking place around us instead of standing up and speaking our truth. Critical thinking and free speech are not dangerous. They are what free and democratic societies are built upon. Fight for them and they — and we — will flourish. Leave it to others and we risk losing our hard-won civic freedoms forever: a future for our children which none of us want to see.

Many thanks to UsForThem for the original


As I read this afresh I’m moved to wonder how I might have responded if I had been transported to be, if not a Chief Youth Officer, some brand of Senior Manager within the remains of Services for Young People. Would I have had the bottle to stand my ground and report to politicians and bureaucrats my principled and informed opposition to the closure of playgrounds and youth centres, to express my concern that the imposition of masks and social distancing had no solid empirical basis and would undermine the very foundations of relational education? I like to think so but it’s easy to be brave from a distance. Certainly, it seems likely that when word got out about such a stance, whatever my track record, I would have become persona non grata overnight. Quite how this immediate, damning and long-lasting judgement of my worth squares with the person-centred, process-led and forgiving youth and community work tradition of yesteryear [?] is for another time.

FROM THE ARCHIVES JUNE 2009 -Youth Work Values Under Threat

More or less every month I’ll dig into the archives for pieces that might be of interest or pertinence. I’ve settled on doing so chronologically from the emergence of IDYW in 2009. The following post dates from June 2009. Sadly the links don’t work. There may be a possibility of unearthing the report, ‘Squaring the Circle’.

FROM THE ARCHIVES JUNE 2009 -Youth Work Values Under Threat

Youth work’s values under threat is the title of a new piece in Children and Young People Now focused on Squaring the Circle , the ‘modest’ inquiry into the state of youth work practice led by Brian Merton and Bernard Davies.

The report says: “This inquiry has strengthened our view that these dilemmas are being rendered more acute as the state’s interventions become increasingly prescriptive, intrusive and insistent.” It also fears the distinctive style of youth work is being threatened by the use of accredited outcomes.

Davies said: “Anyone who has their ear to the ground picks up lots of anecdotes about what is happening in youth work. There is a lot of anxiety and anger that the core principles of youth work are under pressure and under threat by some policies, including Aiming High and Youth Matters.

“It is important to get beyond the anecdotes and establish more clearly what is going on,” he added.

More from Janaki Mahadevan’s report here.

The close timing of the appearance of our In Defence campaign and the DMU Inquiry is perhaps fortuitous. But as both Thomas Hardy and Karl Marx agreed, twists of fate or plain accidents play an important part in history. Indeed Janika is pursuing a further article for CPYN, exploring this resurgence of questioning about what’s going on within the arena of Youth Work.  This can only be good for the opening of critical debate.

As part of the research, Janika posed the following questions:

I would like to ask you about some of the concerns/ questions that have been raised in both the inquiry and the letter. I would be most grateful if you would answer the following questions for me.

1) Do you think that current policy frameworks are tipping the balance of youth work from open access to targeted provision? If so do you think this is something that is compromising the nature of voluntary engagement and why?

2) Is the relationship between youth worker and young person and the notion of confidentiality being threatened by the requirement to pass information to others and what impact is this having on the nature of youth work?

3) Is the process and intent of youth work being compromised by the pursuit of targets and accredited outcomes? Is it making youth work too prescriptive and why?

As is my failing my reply was less than straightforward, but went as follows:

Before answering your questions directly a few words on principles and ideologies. In arguing for the Defence of Youth Work the Open Letter is at pains to define a form of youth work that is democratic and emancipatory. The core principles of such a liberatory practice are set out in points 1-6 in the fourth paragraph. However, there are other competing forms of youth work, notably an approach to young people that is hierarchical and conformist. Indeed there has been a long-running tension between the two, hence the classic essay title, ‘Is Youth Work an agency of social change or social control?’ In the three decades after the Second World War the model of social change was increasingly favoured at least at the level of policy and rhetoric, caught in the sentiments of the Albemarle Report [1959] and in its last gasps the Milson-Fairbairn Report [1974]. Youth Work desired to be involved in the creation of critical citizens concerned with the common good. Of course, how far this commitment was carried out in practice is a matter of continuing debate. However, with all its warts, this optimistic view of young people’s individual and collective potential has been eroded gradually and insidiously since the late 1970s. It has been replaced by the hierarchical and conformist in its neo-liberal guise, determined to thrust the values of the market into every nook and cranny of our existence. Dominated by a managerial outlook, obsessed with the technical and behavioural, it seeks to mould young people into being individualistic, compliant and never-satiated workers and consumers. This is the ideology behind the social policy proposals of the New Labour era. However this way of viewing the world is in crisis, hence the beginnings of debate across all corners of society – in our case within Youth Work.

As to your specific questions:

1. Voluntary engagement is thoroughly compromised by New Labour’s emphasis on the compulsory targeting of ‘problematic and demonised’ youth. An authentic voluntary encounter is uncertain on both sides of what might come out of the relationship. This does not mean that the democratic youth worker should be not be prepared for all sorts of tangents. Being able to improvise on the spot requires great skill and preparation. But the managerial demand that the youth worker goes out with a predetermined agenda is utterly at odds with the uncertainty of voluntary contact. As for the issue of open access and targeted provision, I don’t want to dodge the reality that the form of youth work I advocate has sometimes prioritised work with particular groups e.g young women, and black youth. However this ‘targeting’ has been premised on the negotiated identification of needs and rights by young people discriminated against within the system. It would be dishonest, given scarce resources, to deny that this commitment has sat uneasily besides a desire to be ‘open’ and inclusive. This said a democratic youth work rejects the present hierarchical view that those targeted are somehow deficient, dysfunctional and anti-social. To borrow from Jeffs and Smith, a democratic youth work works with young people, whereas hierarchical youth work works on them.

2. The delicate issue of confidentiality is abused by the managerial imperative to collect and circulate information. There is growing anxiety generally about the growth of a surveillance society. In this context, to my mind, a principle of democratic youth work is that you don’t grass on a young person, who has trusted you enough to chat about the mess they’re in. This commitment should only be set aside in exceptional circumstances. The push to integrate services uniformly undermines the distinctive character of differing agencies and undermines worker autonomy. I have been in situations, where working closely with a teacher, or social worker about a particular young person’s situation has been enormously helpful. I have been in situations where to do so would have been disastrous. A profound problem with social policy is that it fails to recognise the intimate and complex picture of professional relationships on the ground. To put it crudely I’m not going to share information about a young person with someone I don’t trust personally or politically!

3. Obviously I think a target-led and outcome-driven model of youth work undermines a creative and improvisatory, democratic youth work. This is rendered all the more so when these prescriptions for practice are imposed from above with no democratic debate between politicians and the workforce doing the job. As for accreditation, there’s always been a section of the work that gave certificates and badges, symbolised by D.of E. It was/is a choice for some young people. But this is very different from the pursuit of accredited outcomes becoming the driving force of practice. And this emphasis again profoundly changes the direction of the work. It does so because [and its advocates stress this point] it makes Youth Work the servant of the Market and the Employer. Now Youth Work with its inferiority complex has dabbled in the past with ‘preparing young people for work’. I remember school-leaver courses in the mid-70s, but until the last decade, we have tried to fend off becoming social and life skills instructors in obedience and conformity. It is a measure of New Labour’s success in transforming Youth Work that we are now forced to make the case afresh for youth workers as social educators striving through a critical dialogue to educate both themselves and young people in the struggle for democracy and equality. It is a measure of New Labour’s failure to fashion a more just society that we are able to raise the purpose and the principles of Youth Work anew.

As always your critical thoughts are welcomed. 


Thanks to Diane Law for tracing this link to the ‘Squaring the Circle’ report. It’s the first article in this issue of Y&P

Next Cretan Chatting Critically meeting, Wednesday, April 26th


I must apologise for my dull sloth. I intended to post a report on the first Chatting Critically meeting, which took place in Gavalohori on Tuesday, March 25th. A combination of being under the weather and making a trip back to Wigan has meant putting off the task. However, this evening’s jangling Easter Week church bells have woken me up.

Back then, on a bright, cold morning I made my way tentatively down the steep slope, my head swimming from a still mysterious allergy, concerned to be first in the kafenio. Indeed I was, being greeted warmly by young Giorgos, who has in recent months transformed the classic men’s retreat into a much more open meeting place. And to be fair, the blokes don’t seem to mind, taking it all in their collective stride. I was thrown briefly when Giorgos nipped next door for a haircut, confident fifteen minutes would do the trick. He was right, returning just in time to take the orders for coffees and juice being placed by the arriving would-be Chatters.

Following brief introductions by the ten of us present [3 men and 7 women] we threw ourselves into a wide-ranging discussion, which began with the question of what constitutes Truth, going on to explore amongst other things what information and disinformation continue to influence our understandings of the COVID pandemic and the spectre of Climate Change. To everyone’s credit, the challenging exchange of opinions was cordial and respectful. There was a consensus that our next gathering should be more focused in its content and intent.

Thus it was agreed that we should meet again on Wednesday, April 26th in the H Ελπίδα kafeneio, Gavalohori at the same time of 10.30 a.m, aiming to finish by noon. We were grateful to Phil Harrison for agreeing to lead off our next debate, which will explore the state of the Creative Arts in the third decade of the twenty-first century with particular regard, given Phil’s career, to the music scene.

All are welcome but it would be helpful if you could let me know if you are intending to be present – Last-minute arrivals will still be greeted with open arms!

Other topics suggested for future meetings include:

  • Given most of us are migrants, how do we understand the ongoing issue of immigration, refugees and government responses?
  • Where is the drive to a cashless society taking us?
  • What on earth is the Great Reset?
  • Are we living in an increasingly intolerant and divisive culture, which threatens the very basis of Freedom of speech?

Crossing fingers you might make it on the 26th.




Tomorrow. all being well. there’ll be a belated report from the first Cretan Chatting Critically meeting held in Gavalohori in March, together with notice of the next meeting to take place on Tuesday, April 25 in the same venue, H Ελπίδα.

Given our first discussion touched both on Freedom and Hope, here’s a song from HK (& Les Saltimbanks), Toi et moi, ma liberté – with translation.

You and me, my freedom
This is where it all begins
Time may well stop
For a new dance
You and me, my freedom

Tonight the city is asleep
Humans have their minds elsewhere
Do you know that for you my friend
I will sing for hours

I will open the windows wide
To contemplate the joys of the sky
And I will see you appear
Like a flash, a spark

This is where it all begins

Time may well stop
For a new dance
You and me, my freedom

This is where it all begins
Time may well stop
For a new dance
You and me, my freedom

Last the walls and the facades
And the speeches of circumstance
A few imprudent people escape
Freeing themselves from proprieties

And here they are joining us
Like in a big popular ball
Do you feel our sorrows slipping away
Tomorrow will be more beautiful than yesterday

This is where it all begins
Time may well stop
For a new dance
You and me, my freedom

This is where it all begins
Time may well stop
For a new dance
You and me, my freedom

Friends, trees are in bloom
And here we are again
Like brothers, like sisters
And the soldiers are disarmed

We dance barefoot on the Earth
We pitch on the roof of the world

HK et Les Saltimbanks is a French popular music group from the Lille metropolis.

HK, son of an immigrant and Roubaisien, develops ideas of nomadic utopias and tells the stories of the homeless, Tuaregs and revolutionaries in the first album entitled Citoyen du monde’. They are known for their committed texts dealing with social struggles…