Anti-war head's GTC battle

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
Peace activist accused of inappropriate behaviour towards parent. Irena Barker and Tara Fawcett report

A headteacher dubbed "The Red Head" after telling pupils he opposed the bombing of Afghanistan has appeared before England's General Teaching Council accused of inappropriate sexual advances towards a parent.

Peter Stevenson, the CND-badge-wearing former head of Exeter Road primary in Exmouth, Devon, appeared before a two-day conduct hearing last week.

The parent sobbed as she told the hearing that Mr Stevenson had pursued her with letters and poems and asked her to meet him somewhere "discreet after dark".

The woman, who had two children at the school, said Mr Stevenson told her that he and his wife had not had sex for years and had asked: "Wouldn't you like to snuggle up with me under the covers at the end of the day?"

She said: "I told him that what he was saying was making me uncomfortable but he continued.

"I had no interest in Mr Stevenson other than as the headteacher of my children."

Mr Stevenson hit national newspaper headlines in November 2001 when he told pupils that the US-led strikes against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan following September 11 were wrong.

Five days after the aeroplanes crashed into New York's World Trade Center, pupils and parents from the school sat on Exmouth beach building a city of "sandcastles for peace". Governors unanimously backed the stance taken by Mr Stevenson, a peace activist for more than 20 years. Devon council was said to be relaxed about it.

Mr Stevenson resigned as head of the 284-pupil school last summer after the school was found to have "serious weaknesses" and after an investigation into five allegations of unacceptable professional conduct. These included making inappropriate sexual advances towards a parent and holding an inappropriate conversation with the parent's two children, who were pupils at the school.

The third and fourth allegations relate to his mishandling of two situations involving the behaviour of pupils, including a girl who was accused of bullying and later withdrawn from the school by her parents. The fifth allegation is that he threatened and bullied a parent.

Bradley Albuery, presenting officer, said that Mr Stevenson sent unsolicited letters and poems to a parent in 2001.

"On a completely unrequited basis, Mr Stevenson asked to meet with her 'somewhere discreet after dark'," he said.

The woman told the hearing she had been scared to tell officials about his advances and had been shocked to receive a letter from him saying they were friends, accompanied by an anthology of poems he had written.

He was also accused of unprofessional conduct after a parent claimed he had used threatening and bullying behaviour when he visited her on the eve of the school fair to pick up a cheque book.

She told the GTCE:"He said he had heard from his wife that myself and other parents were complaining about him to governors, who were planning to sack him.

"I tried to convince him I hadn't told his wife anything, but when I asked him to leave, he banged his fists down on the table and pushed the table aggressively."

All the parents involved denied being engaged in a witch-hunt against Mr Stevenson. His representative, Richard Winterbottom, said: "He did not do anything that he was accused of."

The hearing was adjourned until June.

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