A teacher who repeatedly touched pupils in lessons despite receiving written warnings has been banned indefinitely from the profession.
David Spencer, 64, was curriculum lead for computer studies at Hillview School for Girls in Tonbridge, Kent, between 2014 and 2018.
He was found by a professional conduct panel of the Teaching Regulation Agency to have shown “a disregard for the wellbeing and safeguarding of pupils” through touching them inappropriately, although his actions were not found to be sexually motivated.
Mr Spencer touched pupils’ legs, placed his hands on girls' arms and shoulders, and put his hands on their hands as they used the computer mouse, the panel found. He also asked a pupil to remove her "top", which was a non-uniform fleece.
However, an allegation that he sat on the same chairs as pupils was not proven.
The school had previously sent Mr Spencer two warning letters following complaints about his interaction with pupils – one in December 2014 and one in November 2016.
Teacher's contact with girls 'inappropriate'
After a complaint over his behaviour last May, he was dismissed for gross misconduct and ceased working at the school the following month.
One pupil alleged that Mr Spencer had “leaned forwards and placed his hand on my upper thigh range."
She added: "Mr Spencer’s thumb was on my skirt and the rest of his hand was on my thigh over my tights.” The panel found this allegation was proven.
Mr Spencer admitted in written evidence that he could “knock knees” with pupils and that this was a “daily occurrence”.
He was also accused by several pupils of touching their arms and shoulders. He described himself as a “touchy feely” and “tactile” person during the school’s investigation, and admitted touching pupils’ shoulders to get their attention.
In written evidence, one pupil said Mr Spencer “started putting both hands on my shoulders and crouched down before leaning over so his face was next to mine, resting on my shoulders." She added: "He put his hands on my shoulder every time I called him over when I had a question. I would estimate that this happened to me around three times each lesson.”
The panel found there were inconsistencies in Mr Spencer’s account of allegations that he touched pupils’ hands while they were using the computer mouse.
A pupil reported that the teacher “slid his right hand down my right arm and put his hand on top of my hand whilst it was on the computer mouse". She said: "I was unable to move my hand from the computer mouse. I felt really uncomfortable and managed to pull my hand away.”
Mr Spencer said that if this occurred it would have been an “ouch moment” – an accident – and added: “The implication here is a dwelling and matching of one hand over another. It does not happen.”
But the panel found the pupil's evidence to be credible and concluded that the allegation was proven.
Mr Spencer accepted he had asked a pupil to remove her "top", a fleece that was not part of the school uniform.
The pupil concerned said: "I told him that I didn’t like him calling my fleece a top and that it sounded dodgy, but he continued to ask me to remove my top.”
The panel found that his continuing to refer to the fleece as a top when he had been asked not to was inappropriate.
The panel did not find Mr Spencer’s behaviour to be sexually motivated. It found his contact with pupils was significant and inappropriate, but accepted his claim that he was “attempting to gain their attention, or to comfort them in some instances".
However, the panel also concluded that the teacher's behaviour demonstrated a lack of insight into previous warnings he had been given.
TRA chief executive Alan Meyrick, acting on behalf of the secretary of state, found that: “Mr Spencer showed a lack of empathy and understanding in relation to his pupils' emotional wellbeing and the impact of his actions on them.”
He also noted that Mr Spencer’s actions had had a negative impact on pupils’ education, with pupils fearing to raise their hands in his class.
He imposed an indefinite prohibition order. Mr Spencer will be able to challenge the decision in 2023.