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Stephen Elliott – Chair: Parental Alliance for Choice in Education

 

In the closing days of January 2018 it was revealed that Dermot Mullan, headteacher at Our Lady and St Patrick’s College in Belfast, was accused on plagiarising the work of another teacher.  Mr Mullan immediately confessed to the offence and that, it would seem, is to be the end of the matter.  His Board of Governors made no comment, the Catholic Church made no comment, and – most concerning of all – Northern Ireland’s General Teaching Council remained silent.  This silence is puzzling given that Mr Mullan heads a school which makes much of its lofty Catholic principles.  How does a plagiarist urge honesty and integrity on pupils in general (and pupils taking GCSE and GCE examinations, in particular)?  How does Mr Mullan discipline a pupil suspected of copying the coursework of another pupil?  Surely the parents of the culprit will detect a double standard here: there seems to be one rule for the children and another for their principal?

 

 

Dr Neill Morton pictured with Professor Tony Gallagher at QUB graduation.

The existence of a disturbing double standard is nowhere better illustrated than in the intervention of Neill Morton, the self-styled “emeritus” headmaster of Portora Royal School.  Despite being the Education Chair of Northern Ireland’s Examination Council (CCEA), Dr Morton appeared on BBCNI television Newsline on Monday 29th January 2018 to assure the public that the whole issue of Mr Mullan’s plagiarism was overblown.  This clearly demonstrates one law for pupils taking examinations and another for their teachers: if Dr Morton’s view of Mr Mullan’s indiscretion were applied to pupils, then the entire concept of public examinations would collapse.  In short, Dr Morton’s comments on Mr Mullan’s plagiarism should immediately disqualify him from any public office concerned with public examinations.

Dr Morton’s failure to condemn Mr Mullan’s activities outright is even more surprising given that he has recently completed a Doctorate in Education at The Queen’s University of Belfast.  A glance at that university’s website or a random walk through its McClay library will quickly reveal the seriousness with which it views plagiarism.

When pupils are charged with plagiarism the consequences can be drastic: their grades can be deleted; they may be expelled and the pupil whose work was plagiarised may fall under suspicion.  One doesn’t seem to encounter the same clarity of decision-making when it comes to settling the fate of a highly-salaried headteacher like Mr Mullan.  One encounters the same imbalance in respect of university students and their teachers: one can spend many hours searching for a well-defined Queens policy on staff accused of appropriating the work of other academics.

 

The claims advanced here deserve a response.  It is completely unacceptable that Dr Morton’s judgement of Mr Mullan’s plagiarism is entirely at odds with the treatment of examination candidates guilty of the same offence.  How must the parents of children judged to have plagiarised in an assessment have reacted to CCEA’s Education Chair making little of a headteacher facing the same charge?  Why have the Governors of Mr Mullan’s school not made a statement?  Why is the Catholic Church silent on what is a failure in morality in a person charged with leading by example?  Finally, why are teachers, pupils and parents yet to hear a word from Northern Ireland’s General Teaching Council?

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