A teacher who sent inappropriate messages to a student over social media and used "hummus" as a code word for sex has been banned from the classroom.
Kate McCann, 40, who taught at an unnamed school, was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct by a panel of the Teaching Regulation Agency.
She was found to have exchanged thousands of messages on Facebook with the student over the course of one month, and also allowed the student to refer to her as "mother".
The student was known to be vulnerable, and told Ms McCann that she had experienced suicidal thoughts and was taking medication, which the teacher did not disclose to any safeguarding leads or third parties.
The teacher also made disparaging comments to the student about other members of staff, and permitted the student to mark exam papers for her.
Teacher's Facebook messages
Ms McCann had been employed at the school since 2001. At the beginning of August 2017, the school received a complaint from a former student's parents regarding the number of messages Ms McCann had exchanged with their daughter, which amounted to over 900 A4 pages.
In a meeting during October 2017, Ms McCann admitted exchanging inappropriate messages with the student and explained that a "co-dependent" friendship had developed between the two of them.
She subsequently resigned from her position at the school.
During the meeting in October, Ms McCann admitted she had accepted a "Facebook friend request" from the student in June 2017. The panel therefore found the allegation that Ms McCann engaged in inappropriate social media contact with the student to be proven.
Between 2 July and 2 August, shortly after the student had left the school, Ms McCann and the student exchanged 900 pages of messages over Facebook Messenger. A witness giving evidence to the panel said Ms McCann had had a strong relationship with the student and had supported her when she was suffering personal difficulties during her last year in school.
The witness reiterated to the panel that the relationship was "entirely appropriate". However, the panel found that "such a number of messages in a one-month period was an extremely high volume, especially between a teacher and pupil".
Some of the messages also referred to matters of a sexual nature. The witness explained to the panel that during their October meeting, Ms McCann admitted the messages were inappropriate but that she had got "caught up in what was going on" and treated the student as a friend.
Within the messages, "hummus" was used as a slang term for sex, and the panel "could clearly see from the messages that there were a large number that referred to sex or sexual activity in some manner, including discussions of Ms McCann's sex life with her husband, underwear and condoms".
Ms McCann had accepted being known to the student as her "school mum", and that this was a term used to indicate the amount of support Ms McCann was giving the student during the school day. However, the witness to the panel felt the number of references to the teacher being the student's "mother" was inappropriate.
Referring to the student as her 'daughter'
The panel noted there were many messages in which Ms McCann and the student referred to one another as "mother" or "daughter". Ms McCann sent the student messages advising her when she would "wake her up", "to go to bed" and to "brush her teeth", which the panel's report described as being "akin to how a parent may deal with their child".
The student told Ms McCann she had changed her saved contact number to "mum" in her phone, and also sent her a message saying "Good morning mother".
The panel noted that there was a message from the student's mother to the teacher in April 2017 which did refer to her as the student's "school mum" and that this was not, therefore, a term being used without the parents' knowledge.
However, the messages in which "mother" and "daughter" were used frequently between the two were at a time when the student had left school and the panel found this to be inappropriate.
Some of the messages contained clear references to alcohol and drug-taking. Ms McCann also exchanged messages about the student leaving home, commenting on her parents. The witness told the panel that commenting on the parenting a student received was inappropriate unless there was a safeguarding concern.
The panel found that "these messages were clearly outside of a teacher's remit and cross the boundary as to what is appropriate between a teacher and pupil".
Disparaging remarks about other teachers
The teacher also sent Facebook messages to the student while she was working at school, divulging personal information about other teachers and making disparaging remarks about other students.
During a staff meeting, she messaged the student to say: "I'm bored now. We've got to the part where the middle age women moaning about their bosses".
Another message read, "I'm teaching Year 8 and I have to hold the tears of laughter in."
Some of the messages included discussion of which other members of staff were "MILFs" or "DILFs", staff leaving events, teachers' personal relationships and their obsession with sex, and marital relationships.
The teacher also disclosed to the student that another teacher's husband had died, which the panel felt was confidential information that should not have been shared.
Other messages referred to students taking drugs, how Ms McCann's students may have performed in exams and messages referring to specific students being a "disease" or "bad".
Ms McCann was also found to have met up with the student three times after she had left the school. She also permitted the student to mark exam papers for her.
The witness to the panel explained how the studen was "very capable" and had developed mental health issues during her final year of school. Although Ms McCann was not the school's designated safeguarding lead, she had undertaken mental health and safeguarding training and had an active role in supporting the student.
When the student went on a school ski trip, Ms McCann and the student's mother liaised to create a care plan for her, and Ms McCann was also supportive when the student had an operation during April 2017.
The school considered the support provided by Ms McCann to the student to be necessary and appropriate.
However, the panel noted that within the messages there were references to the student exceeding the recommended dosage of an unnamed medication. Ms McCann warned the student of the dangers of this but there was no evidence she "had made any other attempts to ensure...a vulnerable person due to her mental state, was safe", and she did not disclose the fact the student was feeling suicidal to any relevant third parties, such as social services.
The TRA found that Ms McCann's actions amounted to serious misconduct and that while there was no evidence her friendship with the student was motivated out of any "nefarious purpose", it was still inappropriate and recommended a five-year ban with provisions for a review after five years.
Alan Meyrick, acting on behalf of the secretary of state, said he had "placed considerable weight on the finding of the panel that states, 'Ms McCann's actions were extremely serious, especially in respect of the issues surrounding her dereliction of safeguarding duties involving a vulnerable pupil, which she had not properly explained at any point'."
Mr Meyrick imposed a five-year ban. Ms McCann can apply for the order to be lifted after 21 January 2025.