Teacher's trail of chaos

5th December 2008 at 00:00
In the GTCS's first hearing into incompetence, a primary teacher has been struck off the teaching register for 12 months

A peaceful classroom was turned into a scene of "appalling" behaviour in a matter of weeks. Pupils' confidence was "shattered" and their physical safety put at risk. Colleagues were undermined, antagonised and sworn at. Children with additional needs were accused of being manipulative.

This was the trail of chaos at three Perth and Kinross schools described on Wednesday at the General Teaching for Scotland, which was holding the first hearing into the case of a teacher dismissed for incompetence.

Susan Barnard, 55, was this week struck off the teaching register for 12 months in a unanimous verdict, the only one available to the council. She has the right to appeal against the decision to the Court of Session.

She had previously been sacked by Perth and Kinross Council, but had subsequently found supply work with Stirling Council. The GTCS ruling prevents her working anywhere in the UK.

Mrs Barnard, who qualified in New Zealand in 1977 but had a long period away from the classroom before returning to the profession in Scotland, had already pled guilty to charges of incompetence last month before a damning 40-page document was presented to the GTCS's disciplinary sub- committee.

It painted a picture of a bizarre character, aloof and condescending towards pupils and incapable of seeing where she was going wrong. Despite considerable support from Perth and Kinross Council, her classroom practice showed few signs of improvement. The evidence pored over her record when she filled permanent posts at Coupar Angus, Comrie and Arngask primaries.

During one music class, she decided to dance around the tables, refusing to stop even after she caused "total disruption" and "mayhem". She repeatedly used sign language in class because she thought it would help with reading and spelling; she also used it with a P7 special needs pupil who had no knowledge of sign language. The report noted that, on one occasion, she had suggested that children in need of support were "playing on their situation".

The sub-committee heard that she put her own and pupils' safety at risk. After she fell off a stepladder, it was pointed out that she was wearing unsuitable shoes; she suggested that the class teacher had made her do it.

Colleagues "could not find an activity for Mrs Barnard to do that she did not mess up in some way", according to the evidence. They were "exhausted and frustrated" when she was in their room, as she was "aloof", found it difficult to take advice, and had "an inability to read situations".

Pupils could not understand what Mrs Barnard was telling them. She was interested in the academic side of teaching but could not pitch ideas at the children's level, even trying to explain inverse integers to a P6 boy who was good at maths.

Mrs Barnard argued after her spell at Comrie Primary that problems had emerged because she did not have a class of her own. Perth and Kinross Council found her a post with a class of her own at Arngask Primary in August 2006; she lasted three weeks and two days.

Headteacher Stephen Humphries was "shocked" at the number of children behaving "appallingly" in a previously well-behaved class of 22; they were "totally disregarding" what she said. Afterwards he said: "It was a relief to all concerned when she was withdrawn from the class."

In her defence, Mrs Barnard told the sub-committee that she had been in a car accident in 1980 in which her boyfriend had died. She had to undergo five years of reconstructive face treatment, and suffered from restricted vision in one eye.

Having spent time away from teaching, she registered with the GTCS in 1996 and only pled guilty to incompetence between 2003 and 2006 when she said she had been going through a "dark time".

Her problems stemmed largely from incidents involving two difficult boys while at Coupar Angus Primary's special education unit, she said. This included a serious attack by one P2 boy who had kicked her in the face and tried to gouge her good eye. She had suffered from anxiety afterwards and admitted that this made her difficult to work with.

Since leaving Perth and Kinross, she worked in supply posts at between 10 and 20 Stirling Council schools, and a positive reference from a head was read in her favour.

To add your comments to the debate on incompetent teachers, the right of the GTCS to strike them off and whether the hearings should be made public, go to the story on this week's TESS online at www.tes.co.ukteachercompetence.


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