Did head abuse or just restrain?

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Is a headlock unacceptable? What about cross-country runs? James Knock on a case with huge implications

A disciplinary hearing into a headteacher who allegedly held a special needs pupil in a headlock and kicked another's feet from under him when he started to cry has been adjourned for a fourth time.

John Davies is said to have led a regime which breached the basic human rights of pupils at Swinford Manor, a residential school for boys with special needs in Ashford, Kent. He reappeared before England's General Teaching Council in Birmingham last week charged with unacceptable professional conduct.

The 58-year-old first went before the GTC last September when he was accused of using early-morning runs as punishment. His use of restraint had been likened to that used for breaking in a horse.

He appeared before the GTC again in October and March. His case has now been adjourned until July - and the verdict could have ramifications for teachers disciplining challenging pupils.

Mr Davies, who was head of the school from 1989 to 2000, is accused of using unnecessary restraint, breaching child protection procedures and not providing an appropriate level of care.

Ian Poole, from the National Association of Head Teachers, who is representing him, said: "Is every teacher to be anxious they will be asked to appear before the GTC for making children do a few press-ups?"

At one of the earlier hearings Ian Craig, Kent county council's schools and early-years officer, described the runs as abuse and drew comparisons with breaking in horses.

Bernard Allen, an expert in restraint techniques, told last week's hearing that actions taken by Mr Davies should not be taken out of context.

He suggested Mr Davies, who has been a teacher for 30 years, was only following national guidelines. "I don't agree with it but that is what they were being told to do. That would not be what we would impose as good practice now, but it clearly was then."

Swinford Manor, a school for boys aged between 10 and 16, was rated as outstanding by inspectors in 1996 and awarded beacon status in 1998.

John Woodhouse, a chartered psychologist, was part of the inspection team.

He told the disciplinary hearing: "It was not the sort of school where you would expect restrictions to be going on.

"I know my report seems like a eulogy but I don't write lightly. I can be harsh and I can be supportive but this was a school I was very supportive of."

Mr Davies said he had run an exceptional school for difficult boys. He was suspended after an investigation by Kent county council following a complaint from a parent.

At one of the earlier hearings Mr Davies admitted using early- morning runs as punishment and said: "If taking kids for cross-country runs is physical abuse, the GTC has a job for life."

* newsdesk@tes.co.uk

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