Call for advice on classroom affairs

9th September 2005 at 01:00
Aberdeen officials believe other authorities have important lessons to learn from the case of the Kincorth Academy teacher who was forced to resign after his relationship with a pupil became public.

The city council has this week accepted all the recommendations from an independent investigation into the circumstances of the "close emotional relationship" between John Forrester, who was Kincorth's head of music, and Claire Bennett, who is aged 16 and is now pregnant with their child. Mr Forrester denied there was a sexual relationship between them while they were at the school.

The investigation carried out by Anne Black, a social work consultant, found that from late last year until his resignation in February, "there was a series of events in school involving Mr F and CB which, taken singly, do not raise major concerns but, when viewed together, show a pattern of involvement with one pupil which was unusual for a principal teacher".

Ms Black made a number of wide-ranging recommendations, including the need for officials to spend more time in direct contact with staff and pupils.

Aberdeen says it has reviewed the job of education officer and is confident this will be more possible in future.

But the report exonerated the council in its handling of the situation.

"Given the determination of two people to conceal a relationship which they know will have serious consequences, it is hard to see how management in the school could have predicted the nature of that relationship," it stated.

Mr Forrester was able "skilfully to withhold significant information about his life and relationships even from his closest colleagues".

Ann Landels, neighbourhood officer for the south area of Aberdeen responsible for Kincorth, said: "There are wider implications for education authorities, especially in respect of new legislation such as that on breach of trust."

The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 makes it a criminal offence for anyone over the age of 18 to engage in a sexual relationship with someone under the age of 18 where they are "in a position of trust". The difficulty of establishing whether there had been a sexual relationship is believed to have been behind the decision by the Crown Office not to prosecute.

The Scottish Executive promised guidance on the Act in 2001 but none has yet been issued. This failure, Ms Black noted, "meant that knowledge and understanding of the importance of this offence across the council remained minimal".

There was even a lack of clarity about whether the Act was in force.

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