Teacher struck off for leaking exam details to students

30th April 2010 at 01:00
`Confidential' tip-offs before French oral test breached trust in profession, committee told

A former dancer, dramatist and acupuncturist-turned-French teacher was struck off by the General Teaching Council for Scotland this week after he admitted giving 11 pupils information about an oral conversation topic in advance of their French GCSE exam last year.

Eric Tessier-Lavigne, 51, who was in his first year as a qualified teacher in the modern languages department of independent Gordonstoun School, admitted 11 charges of misconduct - each one relating to a pupil to whom he had sent individual and group emails within three days of the conversation element of the exam.

He denied cheating, maintaining that his emails were simply an attempt to pinpoint the topic on which they needed to focus at a "clinic" he was holding before the exam.

But he accepted that he breached exam guidance from Edexcel, the exam board setting the GCSE exams offered at Gordonstoun, the private school in Moray formerly attended by Prince Charles and other members of the royal family.

The teaching council's disciplinary sub-committee ordered his removal from the register of teachers this week, saying he had breached public trust and confidence in the profession, "particularly in relation to examination procedures".

Mr Tessier-Lavigne had, the committee heard, sent 11 pupils individual emails three days before the exam, marked either "very private" or "highly confidential".

He highlighted conversation topics they should focus on for their second conversation test (the first test is on a topic selected by the pupil), telling each one the information was for their "eyes and ears only". He then instructed each one to destroy the email immediately after reading it.

The French teacher, who had entered teaching late after a career in theatre and dance, described his language as "theatrical hyperbole" designed to catch their attention.

In his group email on the eve of the exam, marked "urgent and confidential" and "destroy after reading", he told the pupils to include "random" notes on the second topic embedded among their notes on the first topic - for which they were allowed to take in prepared notes to the exam - "because officially you don't know what your second topic will be".

In the event, only four of the 11 pupils were examined by Mr Tessier- Lavigne on the topic he had highlighted in his emails to them.

Paul Marshall, legal representative for the GTCS, said that even if the teacher had not meant to give pupils information about their second topic, they were entitled to believe, based on his emails, that they were being given advance information and that they should therefore focus on one topic to the exclusion of others.

The alternative interpretation was that he did indeed intend to give them advance information, but only managed to achieve that aim in some of the cases. Either way, it was a "serious case of misconduct", and he had failed to "maintain appropriate boundaries" with pupils in the language used in his emails, he argued.

Andrew Gibb, who represented Mr Tessier-Lavigne, said his client accepted that he had fallen short of the standards expected of a registered teacher.

But he argued that the teacher was inexperienced in the English exam system, having completed his probation at Nairn Academy, and that he had not tried to be devious since he knew that the school internal email system was subject to scrutiny.

Mr Gibb acknowledged that the French teacher's emails had been "silly" and "crass", rather than an intentional attempt to disadvantage or advantage pupils.

Carole Ford, convener of the GTCS sub-committee, said Mr Tessier-Lavigne's actions had "seriously jeopardised his position as a role model for young people".

elizabeth.buie@tes.co.uk.

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