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Special needs pupils 'broken in like horses'

Boys at a residential school for pupils with special needs suffered inappropriate headlocks and arm holds, were routinely videoed when being restrained and made to do morning runs as a punishment, a teachers' disciplinary hearing has been told.

It was alleged that John Davies, 58, while head of Swinford Manor school in Ashford, Kent, from April 1989 to November 2000, acted in a manner inconsistent with child welfare.

The school taught boys aged 10 to 16. At a hearing in Birmingham of England's General Teaching Council, Chris Alder, presenting officer, said that during a morning assembly Mr Davies was witnessed by staff member Eddie Farren grabbing a pupil and putting him in a headlock before falling on him.

When they stood up, Mr Farren had to prise Mr Davies's hands from around the pupil's neck. Mr Alder said that Mr Farren allegedly witnessed the head march another pupil back and forth across a classroom, holding his arm behind him for three to four minutes. When the boy began to cry and refused to sit down, Mr Davies allegedly kicked his legs from under him. Following a parent's letter in autumn 1999, Kent council launched an investigation into the treatment of pupils at the school.

Ian Craig, assistant director of operations for Kent education authority, conducted the investigation and recommended disciplinary action.

After a suspension and a disciplinary hearing, Mr Davies was dismissed from his post in 2000 for gross misconduct. Giving evidence to the GTC hearing, Dr Craig described the school as "hard, abusive, intimidating and lacking in any sensitivity". He said: "Cross-country runs were used as punishment, boys were got up early and made to run around the field as a punishment for doing wrong... this was sanctioned by Mr Davies. In my view it was abuse."

He said the videos, supposed to demonstrate good practice, showed restraints that flouted the LEA's behaviour management guidelines. In one video, he said, staff were seen attempting to break the spirit of a pupil, which he likened to breaking in a horse. He said: "My view is that this (taking videos) is an infringement of their human rights. It was the videoing of young people in distress, clearly being abused, and it was clearly inappropriate."

Further allegations against Mr Davies state that pupils were restricted in their access to confidential use of the telephone and others were forced to wear distinctive clothing as punishments.

Mr Davies, who attended the hearing, is charged by the GTC committee with unacceptable professional conduct. He denies the allegations against him.

The hearing was adjourned.

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