A headteacher has been barred from the profession for at least two years after he sexually harassed two female members of staff at his school.
Michael Stobart, 61, was headteacher at Belmont School in Lancashire until April 2017. He touched two members of staff in a sexual manner on three separate occasions.
A professional conduct panel of the Teaching Regulations Agency (TRA) heard evidence from one member of staff, who said Mr Stobart approached her from behind on 14 October 2016 whilst she was in the school kitchen, and “proceeded to touch her, inappropriately”.
The panel also heard evidence from a witness to the incident, who had seen Mr Stobart touching the member of staff as she put items away in the fridge.
The panel found the witness’ account to be credible and consistent with what they had heard from the member of staff.
On 23 January 2015 it was alleged that during a school awards ceremony, Mr Stobart put his arm around another member of staff and touched her inappropriately. The member of staff felt his behaviour was wrong yet decided not to report it – she was approached by the investigations team looking at the first allegation.
School staff 'sexually harassed'
The panel considered her evidence with caution yet decided that the “incident did, more likely than not, happen” and that Mr Stobart had sexually harassed her.
On an unknown date after this second incident, Mr Stobart was alleged to have touched the same member of staff inappropriately in a medical room while she was bending over.
After the incident, the member of staff tried to avoid eye contact with Mr Stobart and asked a colleague whether there was CCTV in the room that might have recorded his behaviour. This was not available at the time or afterwards.
The member of staff had felt awkward and uncomfortable about the incident but had not wished to raise it formally.
The panel exercised caution regarding hearsay evidence – as the second member of staff did not sign the minutes of the investigation meeting to confirm they were accurate – but found this allegation was likely to have happened.
The panel also found that all the incidents of touching were unwanted and sexual in nature, with the member of staff involved in the first incident stating she had suffered from anxiety afterwards, and did not want to be left alone with Mr Stobart.
The other member of staff knew Mr Stobart’s behaviour was wrong but said “it did not play on her mind". She was new to her position and did not feel able to report what had happened.
The panel found Mr Stobart’s behaviour was in breach of the teachers’ standards, as he had failed to uphold the “public trust” in the profession, as well as to demonstrate “tolerance of and respect for the rights of others”.
They recommended that Mr Stobart be banned from the profession, noting that “the findings of misconduct were serious and the conduct displayed would be likely to have a negative impact on the individual’s status as a teacher, potentially damaging the public perception”.
Alan Meyrick, the decision-maker acting on behalf of the education secretary, said the allegations were “particularly serious” as “they include a finding of sexual activity on the part of a headteacher” and therefore banned Mr Stobart from the profession for at least two years.
After the two-year review period, Mr Stobart will be able to apply against the prohibition order on 15 June 2021.