It was always going to take a spectacular display of unprofessionalism to warrant the Institute for Learning's (IfL) ultimate sanction - a lifetime ban from teaching in the FE sector - being imposed for the first time.
Last week, nine years after the professional body for FE teachers was created, the unthinkable finally happened. And former prison tutor Beverley Van-de-Velde did not just cross the line; when she had sex with a convicted murderer inside a prison staffroom she obliterated it.
By filming her intimate encounter with Richard Francis at Rye Hill Prison in Warwickshire - the category B prison where he was incarcerated - and using the footage to make a DVD for her lover, Mrs Van-de-Velde created the damning evidence that led to her being sacked by her employer, The Manchester College, and brought her seven-year teaching career to an end.
While a number of college lecturers have been reprimanded and suspended since the IfL's professional practice committee hearing took place in 2009, the decision to expel Mrs Van-de-Velde means she has effectively been struck off its register and is no longer permitted to teach in colleges or other FE institutions.
Committee chair Pat Parker concluded that Mrs Van-de-Velde's "lack of complete insight into the inappropriateness of her actions", coupled with the seriousness of the misdemeanour, was "fundamentally incompatible with (her) continuing to be a teacher".
Mrs Van-de-Velde started working for the Manchester College in 2007 and took up a teaching post at Rye Hill later that year. By November 2010, when the incident in question took place, she was "not in a good place", she told the committee. "At the time I was working very hard and was quite stressed. I'd just ended a relationship and was just approaching my 60th birthday," she said.
Mrs Van-de-Velde helped inmates put together a prison magazine. Mr Francis, serving a 13-year jail term after stabbing a man in the chest during a 2002 brawl, showed an aptitude for the task. The inmate, then aged 29, was appointed editor. Initially, a number of other prisoners also attended the team meetings; they gradually dropped off until only Mr Francis and Mrs Van-de-Velde remained.
Some of the other prisoners subjected Mrs Van-de-Velde to sexist abuse, she said, but not Mr Francis. "He was different," she added. "It all built up. It was a relationship ... Everything we did was meant to be private."
But it did not stay private for long. The "graphic and explicit" DVD was found, along with a stash of steamy letters, when prison guards searched Mr Francis's cell. Mrs Van-de-Velde, of Glenfield, Leicestershire, was later cautioned by police for the offence of creating a photograph or sound recording inside a prison without permission.
That turned out to be the least of her worries. A source at the prison leaked a copy of the DVD to a tabloid newspaper. Within days, Mrs Van-de-Velde was plastered all over the tabloids and images of her wearing skimpy lingerie - apparently taken from the DVD - were reprinted "for everyone to see".
"My mum read it. My friends rang up, asking me what was going on. No one knew about it," Mrs Van-de-Velde told the committee, fighting back tears. "It affected the IfL, the college, the prison and me. That was just awful, not just for me but for the prisoner as well."
While admitting that her behaviour had "clearly" contravened the IfL's code of practice, Mrs Van-de-Velde described the incident as a "glitch" and told the committee that she did not want to be struck off. "I enjoy teaching. I have been told I am a good teacher. Up until that time, I have always been professional ... That's unlikely to happen ever again. I will never be in that situation ever again."
The committee ruled that she had committed three breaches of the IfL code's "professional integrity" requirement (see left): by having sex with a learner inside a prison; by removing her keys and key belt, causing a serious security risk; and by receiving a police caution.
"Mrs Van-de-Velde failed to use her professional judgment, which could have had serious safety and security consequences for herself and others, and seriously damaged the reputation of the profession and the institute," said Bradley Albuery, who represented the IfL.
Providing Mrs Van-de-Velde does not appeal, she will not be able to apply to have the decision overturned for at least two years. And given the committee's duty to "protect learners and retain public confidence in the profession", it appears unlikely that she will ever set foot in a classroom - let alone a prison - again.
IFL CODE OF PRACTICE
- Meet their professional responsibilities consistent with the institute's professional values.
- Use reasonable professional judgment when discharging differing responsibilities and obligations to learners, colleagues, institutions and the wider profession.
- Uphold the reputation of the profession by never unjustly or knowingly damaging the professional reputation of another (member) or furthering their own position unfairly at the expense of another.
- Comply with all reasonable assessment and quality procedures and obligations.
- Uphold the standing and reputation of the institute and not knowingly undermine or misrepresent its views nor their institute membership, any qualification or professional status.