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Unholy rows in RE department

'Manipulative' teacher repeatedly told boss to 'piss off' and gave lessons that included penis drawing, GTC hears. Oliver Luft reports

A religious studies teacher who instructed her class of 12-year-olds to draw pictures of circumcised penises had previously delivered other inappropriate lessons, a disciplinary hearing heard this week.

Joan Sherry, formerly of Trinity school, Carlisle, appeared before England's General Teaching Council charged with unacceptable professional conduct.

Philip Little, the former head of religious studies at the 1,800-pupil school, said Ms Sherry was inclined to manipulate children and focus on the sensational as it made controlling her class easier.

He said that she was cynical and sarcastic in staff meetings and that after a review meeting she told him to "piss off" several times before he retreated, fearing that he would be physically attacked by her.

Ms Sherry, 48, is alleged to have instructed her mixed class of 12-year-olds to draw inappropriate pictures of circumcised penises as part of their work.

She admitted instructing the pupils to do the drawings but said she did not consider it inappropriate as the diagram came from a text used in personal, social and health education lessons, rather than religious studies.

But an earlier GTC hearing in March was told parents of Year 8 pupils complained and that Ms Sherry's head of department did not regard such drawings to be part of the work scheme.

Ms Sherry is also charged with refusing to co-operate with her head of department, intending to absent herself from school for the summer term 2001, discussing her difficult relationship with the head with pupils and leaving her class unattended.

Ms Sherry, who now works for the court service in Carlisle, represented herself at the hearing in Birmingham this week.

Mr Little told the hearing: "There have been times when I thought your (Ms Sherry's) lesson content was inappropriate."

He said she was offhand about the school to prospective employees, leaving them dismayed and not willing to fill vacant posts as they felt unable to reconcile contrasting opinions of the school.

The hearing rejected a request from Ms Sherry to recall Mike Gibbons, her former head-teacher, for questioning.

At the March hearing, Mr Gibbons, who is now director of the Department for Education and Skills innovation unit, told the committee that Ms Sherry had left her class unsupervised, in April 2001, to make inappropriate allegations to the police about him and the school.

He said Ms Sherry had placed the school at the centre of speculation and attention, which had a destabilising effect on it.

She was a teacher at Trinity, a voluntary-aided comprehensive under the stewardship of the Church of England, from 1986 until December 2002 - when she was dismissed.

The GTC hearing was adjourned and will be reconvened to consider further evidence at a later date.

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