Teacher bent rules to save girl from parental anger

26th May 2006 at 01:00
A teacher who gave pupils copies of their reports taken from confidential computer files has been cleared of unacceptable professional conduct.

Stephen Sarsfield, who taught at La Retraite Roman Catholic girls' school, in Lambeth, south London, feared that the parents of one of the two girls he was trying to help would beat her if she did not do well.

"The parents were very strict and had high expectations," he told England's General Teaching Council this week.

The girls were in their third year of sixth form, having been allowed to repeat a failed year. The disciplinary panel heard they had been on the verge of being kicked out in Year 12, despite good GCSE results.

"I was desperate for them to do well," Mr Sarsfield said. "This may have been their last chance in the education system. They were in the last-chance saloon."

He copied their half-term reports from a teacher-access-only part of the school's network on to a computer disk and gave it to one of the girls in October 2004.

Mr Sarsfield said he had done so to help them prepare their parents for poor reports and change their behaviour at home.

In reference to one of them, he said: "I feared she may be beaten if she received a poor report."

Mr Sarsfield told the hearing in Birmingham that he became worried. "I have been teaching for 16 years," he said. "I have a perception when something is going on."

He said that he did not raise the issue through the school child protection procedures because he did not believe it would be taken seriously.

The reports were not changed, but Maureen Howie, headteacher, said: "The ethos of the school was damaged."

She was also concerned that pupils referred to Mr Sarsfield as Steve. "It is not acceptable to refer to a member of staff by their first name - a line of formality had been crossed," she said.

Mr Sarsfield, who was head of technology at the 800-pupil comprehensive, resigned in January 2005 as a result of the investigation. He now teaches at St Thomas More school in Purley, Surrey.

Rosemary Stanley-MacKenzie, his NASUWT union representative, said there was no intention to deceive parents and that the system needed more teachers who were prepared to listen to pupils' concerns.

Bulvinder Michael, who chaired the disciplinary hearing, said: "It was extremely unwise to copy the files but Mr Sarsfield acted in what he thought to be the best interests of the pupils.

"His conduct did not fall short of the expectations of a registered teacher. It was not unacceptable professional conduct."

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