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Ridings pupils were caned

Suspended youth worker at troubled school had record of assault. Chris Bunting reports

A YOUTH worker who caned disruptive pupils at the Ridings school, Halifax, was employed despite a previous conviction for grievous bodily harm, it has been revealed.

Denis Midwood, 49, was central to the restoration of discipline at the troubled secondary school after out-of-control pupils forced its temporary closure in 1996.

But eye-witness accounts of him hitting three boys with a cane in January forced his suspension two months ago.

Mr Midwood, who is now on sick leave, was given a final written warning by Calderdale education authority at a disciplinary hearing last week and senior council officers have given private assurances that he will not return to the school.

In November, Anna White, the Ridings' headteacher, told a conference in London that Mr Midwood's work was one of the most successful initiatives at her school.

She told delegates at a Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education conference that Mr Midwood was "a positive force in the school. He is able to work outside the confines of the usual teacher role."

Mr Midwood worked with a small group of the most disruptive children at the Ridings, taking them out of lessons to participate in outdoor activities designed to boost their self esteem, social and problem-solving skills. Computer-based reading and writing schemes were used to improve the students' literacy skills.

Mrs White, who has refused to comment on Mr Midwood's suspension, began working with him at the end of 1997, when he was seconded to the school by Calderdale education department. At the time of his transfer, she was not informed that he had been convicted of grievous bodily harm for assaulting a former girlfriend's new partner five years earlier.

Mr Midwood declared the conviction when he applied to join Calderdale, but officers decided his violent record was not relevant to work with children.

The disciplinary action against Mr Midwood arose after a visitor to the Ridings saw him caning pupils during a class in January and told Calderdale's chair of education Helen Rivron.

Mr Midwood was reported to have said he been given notes by class teachers about bad behaviour by boys in the class. Three boys blew into their hands as if they knew what was coming and they were struck across each palm with a thin stick. One withdrew his hand and was told to hold it out again so he could be hit.

Mr Midwood later claimed parents had given their permission for the canings, but all corporal punishment in state schools has been illegal since 1987.

A statement from Calderdale Council said: "We can confirm that a council officer was suspended and a disciplinary hearing held. The director of personnel and management services has dealt with the matter to the satisfaction of the director of education. In line with the council's procedures for disciplinary hearings, no further statement will be made."

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