A primary school teacher who was found in possession of cocaine has been banned from the classroom.
Bethan Thomas, 26, who taught at St Mary's Catholic Primary School in Newcastle-under-Lyme, was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct by a panel of the Teaching Regulation Agency.
The police initiated an inquiry after they stopped Ms Thomas in May 2019 while she was driving, and during a search she was found to be in possession of one gram of cocaine.
A disciplinary hearing took place at the school in June 2019, after Ms Thomas informed the headteacher. The school found that Ms Thomas had breached the Teachers’ Standards and she was summarily dismissed.
Ms Thomas admitted she had bought cocaine, in a Statement of Agreed Facts dated 15 September 2020.
Following the police investigation, Ms Thomas received a Community Resolution Order, with the agreement that she must not to be in possession of any controlled drug for 12 months.
Cocaine possession 'was out of character'
Ms Thomas had been employed at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School from 1 September 2015 as a Year 5 classroom teacher, having previously undertaken work experience at the school when she was a trainee student teacher. Ms Thomas moved classes and began teaching Year 2 in September 2018.
The TRA panel concluded that "possession of a class A substance amounted to a failure to maintain the high standards of behaviour expected of the teaching profession" and that Ms Thomas' conduct had breached the standard to "uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school".
"The panel concluded that Ms Thomas’ behaviour, in committing the misconduct whilst holding a position of authority as a teacher, could affect public confidence in the teaching profession," a statement from the TRA said.
The panel did conclude that Ms Thomas appeared to be an outstanding teacher and felt that she "had made, and could continue to make, a valuable contribution to the profession".
The panel also heard that while Ms Thomas' actions were deliberate, she was "subject to a degree of duress".
She was "adversely influenced by a third party which caused her to have low self-confidence and resulted in emotional and financial stress and strain" and was also suffering with health problems "which had caused her to be at a low ebb at the time the incident took place".
The panel also heard that Ms Thomas' previous history was good and reviewed evidence that "she was a highly effective teacher with a previously unblemished record" from her former headteacher, a current senior leader and colleagues from the school.
"There was also strong evidence that Ms Thomas’ actions were out of character and an aberration," the TRA statement said.
The panel reported that it was impressed with Ms Thomas’ contribution to the proceedings, and "recognised how daunting it must have been for Ms Thomas, as a young teacher, to participate in them". It was also impressed by her "openness, honesty and transparency from the outset of this matter" in disclosing what had happened to her school at the earliest opportunity and admitting her conduct at the earliest stage.
The panel considered a number of witness statements on Ms Thomas' behalf.
One witness from her school said: "Her love of teaching shone through her lessons and her daily duties around the school. She worked hard and often went beyond what was asked of her.”
"Her relationships with the children were excellent. Her behaviour management was second to none and it soon became apparent that she had a real flair for working with the SEND children. To be honest, it was a breath of fresh air to work with her," another colleague said.
And another said they believed her behaviour in this instance was an "aberration" and that "she has learned a hard lesson; one which will remain with her for life", which would make any repetition of her behaviour "unthinkable".
The panel heard that she had found employment in another sector and was progressing well, although teaching remained her passion.
The panel considered that her actions were "completely out of character" and that the risk of repetition was "extremely low", concluding that it would not be in the public interest to lose Ms Thomas from the teaching profession.
However, acting on behalf of the secretary of state, Sarah Buxcey said the panel had "given disproportionate weight to the mitigating circumstances in this case, along with their consideration of the insight and remorse shown by Ms Thomas".
"Due to the nature of the allegation found proven and the damaging effect of drugs in wider society, I do not support the panel’s recommendation," she added.
"In my view, it is necessary to impose a prohibition order in order to maintain public confidence in the profession," she said.
Ms Buxcey went on to ban Ms Thomas from the profession indefinitely, although she can apply for the prohibition order to be set aside from 1 December 2022.