Pupils 'locked up with rats'

28th October 2005 at 01:00
A teacher at a centre for pupils expelled from other schools has been accused of locking pupils and a colleague in a rat-infested storeroom.

Pauline Hobbs, who taught at Ed-Start Centre, Stoke-on-Trent, was charged with unacceptable professional conduct as she appeared before a disciplinary committee of England's General Teaching Council last week.

Philip Ryder, head of the mixed pupil referral unit for 11 to 14-year-olds, told the hearing he had been concerned about children's safety.

"The room was cold and damp. It was dangerous to be used by either teachers or pupils. There were also rats in there and rat poison had been put down."

Mr Ryder said there had been concerns about Mrs Hobbs since the start of 2004 and spoke of his surprise at finding a student alone in the storeroom. "He told me he had been in there all day with no lunch. This was 30 minutes before the end of the day. He was very distressed.

"Locking students and staff in the room is totally inappropriate. It is not Ed-Start's policy to imprison people."

Andrew Whitehead, a support worker at the centre, said: "The room was dangerous and terrible. There was rat poison on the floor and damp on the walls. I wouldn't be happy with my children working in that environment."

Yvette McGonigal, an education support worker, told the hearing Mrs Hobbs had ignored her and the head's warnings about the condition of the storeroom.

She said Mrs Hobbs had instructed her to isolate a child in there and teach him on a one-to-one basis. They were then trapped after Mrs Hobbs shut the door and only released when another staff member unlocked the door.

Mrs Hobbs's union representative told the hearing isolation was regularly used to calm "behaviourally, socially and emotionally disturbed" children.

Ian Stevenson, from the NASUWT teachers' union, said the pupil who had been locked in the room had been described as unsuitable for the centre and been given individual work plans.

Mrs Hobbs faces 10 allegations including isolating several pupils in the storeroom and excluding a child without the agreement of the head. She denies unacceptable professional conduct.

She resigned from the school in March 2004, after disciplinary action was threatened. The hearing was adjourned.

* newsdesk@tes.co.uk

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