A teacher who sent former students sexually explicit messages over social media has been banned from the classroom.
Oliver Paton, 32, a teacher at John Masefield High School and Sixth Form in Herefordshire, followed or “friended” one or more students shortly after they left the school on social media platforms including Facebook and Instagram and sent them explicit messages during 2016-17 and 2017-18.
A panel of the Teaching Regulation Agency was shown screenshots of messages and images sent by Mr Paton to former pupils, which included an image of a penis captioned with the message: “Is this what you want? Love to see you video it all x."
Other messages sent by Mr Paton included an “image of a penis partially obscured by an emoji" and explicit statements.
He admitted that these messages were of a sexual nature and that he had failed to maintain appropriate boundaries with former students.
Teacher sent 'graphic' images
The panel’s report noted that Mr Paton behaved in this way despite receiving a written warning about his conduct from the school on 10 May 2016, which advised him that the warning would be on his file for 12 months but “disregarded for disciplinary purposes” if his conduct improved.
The panel also noted that in April 2016 the school introduced an agreement regarding the acceptable use of ICT that stated that, “given safeguarding concerns, staff are not permitted to be 'friends' with any student on social networking sites”, adding that staff could not connect with pupils on social media during the five years after they left the school.
Mr Paton accepted that the agreement set out clear boundaries regarding professional conduct. He admitted that he did not listen to the advice and contacted pupils on average between three and six months after they had left the school.
The school first became aware of his behaviour in March 2016 when a member of staff reported that a 17-year-old student’s mother had said Mr Paton had contacted her daughter over social media, using language that she felt to be inappropriate.
The school investigated and Mr Paton attended a disciplinary meeting where he was given the written warning but in June 2018 a member of staff reported that former pupils were alleging Mr Paton had sent indecent images of himself over social media.
The next month another member of staff overheard students discussing the breakdown of Mr Paton’s engagement, hearing one state that “his fiancée found out that he had sent inappropriate pictures” to a former sixth-form student.
In July 2018 Mr Paton was placed on gardening leave during a school investigation into these matters, and in October 2018 he resigned.
The panel found that Mr Paton’s behaviour had breached standards of public trust in teachers and that he had failed to respect the rights of others.
“The findings of misconduct are particularly serious as they include a finding of sexual misconduct and that this continued following a warning by the school,” the TRA’s report said.
There was no evidence Mr Paton was acting under duress, although in a written statement he mentioned that he had “experienced a lot of loss in my life” in recent years, which “led me to make extremely regrettable decisions”.
Alan Meyrick, acting for the secretary of state, said he had noted the panel’s consideration that the graphic nature of the images and comments sent by Mr Paton to former students could “have caused significant distress to the young recipients” and imposed a permanent ban from the classroom.