Late-night cyber chats with pupils lead to ban

6th May 2011 at 01:00
Teacher ignored warning and also harassed woman colleague

A teacher who held late-night expletive-filled chats with pupils on the internet and harassed a female colleague has been banned from the classroom for two years.

Kevin Hopkins, a classroom teacher at St Anne's Academy, Manchester, made "inappropriate contact" with pupils using social networking websites, despite being warned about his behaviour.

His case should serve as a "salutary warning" to other teachers about the dangers of using the internet to communicate with children, the panel of the General Teaching Council for England (GTC) said.

The online conversations, using instant messenger chat services, took place in 2008, late at night, or very early in the morning, and "covered subjects unconnected with the proper teacherpupil relationship", the panel said.

Mr Hopkins also made "inappropriate" comments on social networking sites, several of which gave the GTC panel "particular cause for concern".

Among them were: "thats so fuckin bad", "... are my little girls from form 1st year ..." and "when I say you ur one of my little girls, do you take it as wot it means ...".

He also insulted a colleague, Vicky Hallam, using a social networking website, saying: "... so miss hallam wud luc a dik".

Mr Hopkins, who no longer works at the school, also admitted to harassing Miss Hallam using phone calls and text messages.

He had admitted unacceptable professional conduct and was suspended from teaching for two years.

GTC panel chair Kathy Thomson said he had "failed to put the wellbeing, development and progress of young children first by failing to establish and maintain appropriate professional boundaries in his relationships with children and young people".

"It is clearly unacceptable for registered teachers to make inappropriate contact with pupils, ignore a warning from a senior colleague, make comments of an unacceptable nature on a social networking site and harass anyone, least of all a colleague," Mrs Thomson said.

She added the parents, other teachers and the public did not expect behaviour of this type from a registered teacher and would be "rightly concerned" if it occurred.

"The committee feel that this case is a stark demonstration of the dangers and vulnerabilities inherent in teachers using social networking sites and can but echo the warnings given to Mr Hopkins in the hope that this case will act as a salutary warning to other teachers."

Mrs Thomson said a "lesser sanction" would not "meet the public interest in view of the serious nature of the inappropriate behaviour of Mr Hopkins in using a social networking site to discuss other teachers, pupils and personal matters".

"We do not feel that Mr Hopkins has shown any regret, save that he has lost his job, and have seen no evidence of any apologies to pupils, parents or colleagues," she added.

Mrs Thompson said the nature of both types of allegation - inappropriate contact and harassment - were serious in themselves. "But taken together, we believe that they justify the maximum period of suspension."


Facebook profiles out of bounds

Teaching and heads' unions have long warned about the dangers of social networking websites.

The fastest-growing source of calls to the National Association of Head Teachers advice line is requests for guidance on how to deal with abuse against teachers and "unsubstantiated allegations about management decisions" via sites like Facebook and Twitter.

A Teachers TV survey last year found that 47 per cent of the education workforce fears that pupils can access their personal life via their Facebook profiles.

At the NUT annual conference over Easter, e-safety expert Karl Hopwood warned teachers to be wary of using social networking sites to communicate with pupils. Mr Hopwood also reminded teachers that pictures they posted on the internet could damage their career prospects.

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