A “highly intelligent yet unworldly” music teacher who gave gifts to a girl and invited her to his 60th birthday party without her parents’ knowledge has been allowed to carry on teaching.
John Culley was employed by Southend Borough Council as a peripatetic music teacher between 2009 and 2016, providing group and one-to-one music lessons in schools and colleges.
The report from a panel of the National College for Training and Leadership, published today, says Mr Culley had exchanged private Facebook messages with a girl in 2014, when she was 13 years old.
She was not his pupil, but was a member of an orchestra and choir he was involved with.
Despite his line manager verbally telling him to stop the messaging, it continued for a further four days.
In one such message, he said: “Sadly when an older single man messages a girl some people could get the wrong idea and in the worst case I could lose my job.”
The report says when his line manager left the council in 2016, he resumed messaging the student privately on Facebook Messenger.
He told the panel that "I didn't know that my previous breach of the rules was still on file. I realise this was wrong, particularly in view of my assurance to [his line manager] that I wouldn’t do it again."
The panel described aspects of the messages as “extremely troubling”, with “requests for secrecy and deletion being matters of particular concern”.
Mr Culley also admitted giving the girl gifts, including CDs and other items that were redacted from the report.
In September 2016, her parents discovered an invitation to Mr Culley’s 60th birthday party in her bedroom.
'Inappropriate and unprofessional'
Mr Culley admitted inviting her to play at the event with other musicians and attend a subsequent gathering.
The panel says the invitation by itself was “acceptable and not inappropriate given Student A's musical interests”, but adds: “What was inappropriate and unprofessional was that Mr Culley did not inform Student A's parents. This was particularly important given his knowledge of their previous complaint. As such, this amounted to a failure to maintain appropriate professional boundaries.”
The members of the panel accepted that Mr Culley “viewed the relationship as one between fellow musicians” and they were “completely satisfied” that the ‘friendship’ was not sexually motivated, but said there were “clear breaches of accepted safeguarding principles and practices”.
The report says: “The panel found Mr Culley to be highly intelligent yet unworldly; intellectually arrogant, dismissive of rules, yet naive; a man totally absorbed by music and immersed in music making.
“At the relevant times, he was emotionally and socially vulnerable. The combination of these factors allowed Mr Culley, mistakenly and wrongly, to see a 13-year-old as a ‘friend’.”
The panel decided that, because of his long and successful career as a musician and teacher, positive character references and his insight and remorse, it would not be appropriate to ban him from teaching.
Dawn Dandy, who made the final decision on behalf of the education secretary, approved the panel’s recommendation.