A teacher has been banned from the profession indefinitely after sending pupils inappropriate WhatsApp messages of a sexual nature.
Robert Anthony Donnelly was the head of PE at St Columba’s Catholic Boys' School in Bexleyheath, south-east London, until his resignation from the state secondary on 26 April 2018.
The school was informed of concerns regarding Mr Donnelly’s behaviour outside school when it was found he had exchanged messages of a sexual nature over WhatsApp with two pupils.
He sent one pupil messages late at night on three separate occasions, during December 2017 and January 2018, where he initiated a conversation about male underwear and asked the pupil what underwear he preferred. He made a suggestion of the kind of underwear the pupil should wear, providing a photograph by way of illustration.
A professional conduct panel of the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) considered Mr Donnelly’s explanation that he intended to support the pupil as a football player and ensure he wore appropriate kit.
The panel noted Mr Donnelly was not in contact with the pupil’s parents, and had previously asked the pupil to seek his parents’ permission to buy a team tracksuit.
Mr Donnelly had purchased underwear for the pupil and had not sought consent from the pupil’s parents regarding this.
'Sexually motivated' messages
The panel noted there was no evidence of a history of sports injuries regarding incorrect underwear in the football team, and found Mr Donnelly had failed to maintain appropriate professional boundaries with the pupil.
In January 2018, Mr Donnelly exchanged messages over WhatsApp with another pupil late at night, in which he asked him what underwear he preferred and expressed a preference for tight underwear.
Mr Donnelly offered to buy underwear for the pupil and said that he should “put some clothes on”, implying he was naked.
Mr Donnelly suggested in a witness statement that he said this in the context of having returned from a trip to Australia. He said he was awake late at night because of jetlag and cold due to the temperature difference between Australia and the UK.
The panel accepted that Mr Donnelly may have been suffering from jetlag yet determined his comments to the pupil were highly inappropriate, given the nature of their relationship.
During the conversation, Mr Donnelly advised the pupil on how he should arrange his genitalia in his underwear.
He asked the pupil, "Do they feel too tight" and sent further messages saying "Although you will be used to your boxers allowing everything to hang loose." "You should think about how you arrange yourself inside them."
"Yep – Briefs up – hand in – pull balls up – pull junk up to whichever side you prefer. Should be more comfortable," Mr Donnelly messaged the pupil at 23.38 pm.
The panel found that Mr Donnelly’s conduct was flirtatious and sexually motivated. It recommended to the secretary of state that Mr Donnelly be barred from the teaching profession without provision for a review period, as his behaviour related to sexual misconduct and the abuse of a position of trust.
Dawn Dandy, representing the secretary of state, found Mr Donnelly’s behaviour and “lack of full insight” over his actions meant there was “some risk of the repetition of this behaviour and this puts at risk future safeguarding of pupils”.
Ms Dandy took the decision to bar Mr Donnelly indefinitely from the teaching profession. He will not be able to apply to restore his ability to teach.