'Mohican' head on warpath

16th November 2007 at 00:00
He accuses GTC of time-wasting and poor preparation after a case that lasted almost 1,000 daysA headteacher who was reprimanded by the General Teaching Council for England for pouring water on a pupil's head has said that teachers are afraid to act instinctively in the classroom for fear it will be used against them.

Russell Moon, former head of Philip Morant School, a secondary in Colchester, Essex, was found guilty of unprofessional conduct after a hearing that lasted almost 1,000 days. He said: "Many teachers are frightened by the GTC process. People are afraid to put a foot wrong. They're acting on the spot in difficult circumstances. It places you in a position of vulnerability and that's frightening."

Mr Moon was suspended from his job in February 2005. The governors then submitted a dossier of 15 complaints against him to the GTC, including one of going for haircuts during school time. That list was whittled down to seven charges by the time of the first hearing in March this year. But a string of legal complications repeatedly held up the hearings.

Eventually, he stood on just four charges, including pouring water on a boy's Mohican-style haircut, telling a girl "you don't give a toss about this school" and calling another pupil's mother "nasty, malicious and vindictive". Mr Moon was also accused of acting inappropriately towards his deputy head, John Keenan, by attempting to demote him.

These charges were reported in the local and national press, with The Sun claiming that "Sir soaked pupil's hair".

Mr Moon denied pouring water over the boy's head but said he dampened his fingers in the water, and then smoothed down the boy's hair. He said the events took place with the boy's permission and that neither he nor his mother complained. This was accepted by the teaching council.

The GTC committee said: "Mr Moon has demonstrated insight into his shortcomings and there has been no repetition of his misconduct ... A reprimand ... demonstrates the importance of upholding proper standards of conduct ... while allowing Mr Moon to continue to make a valuable contribution to education."

Mr Moon was appointed as head of Philip Morant School in 1999. In 2001, inspectors said he provided "positive and clear leadership".

He believes his situation was a result of a breakdown in relations between him and the governing body and that the chair of governors, resented his attempts to modernise the school.

"I've had a number of heads say to me, 'There but for the grace of God go I,' " said Mr Moon.

The governors at Philip Morant declined to comment.

But Mr Moon also said the GTC is at fault. "This case raises serious questions about the GTC," he said. "They don't have enough money to properly investigate cases before they go to hearing. They need a better way of sifting out malicious, vexatious or insignificant allegations."

Simon Thomas, from the National Association of Headteachers, represented Mr Moon at the disciplinary hearing.

He said: "GTC cases are not properly investigated at the outset, which means that a lot of unclear, trivial and unsubstantiated allegations are pursued. This just causes more and more delay, more work for everyone, and more stress and anxiety for the teacher concerned."

Mr Moon, who left Philip Morant School in May 2005 after accepting a pound;50,000 compromise settlement, now works as a consultant head in east London. The reprimand will remain on his record for two years.

He accepts the council could not condone his actions but believes it should reconsider its definition of unprofessional conduct.

"There's a difference between what you know you should do as a teacher and the actions you take in challenging circumstances and with no rule book," he said.

"I will always do what's best for pupils. I'm now aware I could place myself in a position of vulnerability by doing that, but I won't compromise standards in school just to get my pension.

"I couldn't do that."

Conduct unbecoming

Keith Robinson was hauled in front of a GTC conduct tribunal last month for misdemeanours including failing to return library books and calling a teenager who swore at him "a waste of space". The accusations related to incidents between September 2004 and December 2005 when he was head of maths at High Ridge Specialist Sports College in Scunthorpe, north Lincolnshire. He was found not guilty of unacceptable professional conduct.

- It took more than six years to clear John Davies of charges of child abuse after he was accused of a range of misdemeanours, including sending pupils on cross-country runs, and suspended in December 1998. The former head of a Kent special school was cleared by the police after a three-year investigation. Yet it was not until July 2006 that the GTC agreed he could teach again. Mr Davies said: "If taking kids for cross - country runs is physical abuse, then the GTC has a job for life."

- Margaret Field was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct this year for taking pupils for lunch near a beach without carrying out a risk assessment. A GTC tribunal heard that the Southampton infants' teacher had changed the itinerary of a trip so pupils had lunch close to a steep incline rather than in an education centre. Although no pupils were harmed, she was reprimanded.

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