DATE OF HEARING: 31 October – 3 November 2011
TYPE OF HEARING: Conduct
NAME OF TEACHER: Mr Mark Walker
NAME OF SCHOOL: Sunnydale Community College,County Durham
NAME OF LA/ EMPLOYER: Durham County Council
HEARING COMMITTEE MEMBERS:
Wayne Jones (Chair)
NAMES AND ROLES OF WITNESSES:
Susan Byrne, Headteacher at Sunnydale Community College, County Durham
PRESENTING OFFICER: Iain Miller
TEACHER’S REPRESENTATIVES: Michelle & Patrick Harrington
The Committee will hear an allegation that Mr Mark Walker is guilty of unacceptable professional conduct in that:
Whilst employed as a teacher at Sunnydale Community College, County Durham during 2007 he:
1. conducted an inappropriate e-mail exchange with a 16 year old former pupil of the school at which he was a teacher;
2. used school computer and internet facilities for his own private and business purposes, including such use taking place during teaching and/or preparation, planning and assessment ("PPA") time;
3. during the period of his suspension acted inappropriately by;
a) contacting colleagues regarding matters relating to the suspension;
b) publicised facts about his suspension and the investigation into his conduct both by his own acts and through his representative;
c) condoned a demonstration outside the school in relation to his suspension.
GENERAL TEACHING COUNCIL FOR ENGLAND
Announced Decision of a Professional Conduct Committee
Teacher: Mr Mark Walker
Date of Announcement: 31 October 2011
Committee’s Decision and Reasons
The Committee announced its decision and reasons as follows:
‘We have now carefully considered the case before us and have reached a decision.
We confirm that we have read all the documents provided in the bundle in advance of the hearing.
Mr Walker was employed at Sunnydale Community College since September 1999 as a graphics technology teacher. He taught all year groups from ages 11 to 16. The school had a cohort of approximately 420 pupils and 30 teaching staff. In February 2007 concerns were raised by an LEA consultant about Mr Walker’s use of the internet. On 9 March 2007 Mr Walker was suspended by the school pending an investigation. Whilst he was suspended his internet access logs were examined. It was also discovered that Mr Walker had exchanged emails with a 16 year old former pupil at the school. During the period of his suspension, it is alleged that Mr Walker contacted colleagues at the school concerning matters relating to his suspension and that he publicised facts about his suspension, resulting in a demonstration that took place outside of the school. Mr Walker’s employment at the college was terminated through the school’s sickness procedures on 31 December 2008.
Findings of fact
Our findings of fact are as follows:
Whilst employed as a teacher at Sunnydale Community College, County Durham during 2007 you:
1. conducted an inappropriate e-mail exchange with a 16 year old former pupil of the school at which you were a teacher;
We find the facts proved. We have heard evidence that the pupil concerned left school in June 2006. We have been presented with an email exchange that began on 14 July 2006 and continued until April 2007. We have heard evidence that the pupil concerned was particularly vulnerable as she had psychological problems and that staff had been made aware of this in April 2006. Mr Walker admits that he engaged in an email exchange with the pupil concerned and that this exchange was inappropriate. Mr Walker refers to ‘one suspect email’. However, the Committee has noted that the language used in several of the emails was highly inappropriate. In particular, we noted emails which contained the terms ‘I124Q’ and ‘12KU’. Despite Mr Walker’s assertion that the email containing the former phrase was not read by the former pupil, he sent a further email containing this term and drawing attention to it, to which the pupil responded. We have also taken into account the fact that Mr Walker told the pupil that he hoped that she was deleting the emails, which confirmed that Mr Walker knew what he was doing was inappropriate and that this was to be hidden from her parents. We also note with concern that the emails were sent using the school computer, with some of them being sent during teaching time.
2. used school computer and internet facilities for your own private and business purposes, including such use taking place during teaching and/or preparation, planning and assessment (“PPA”) time;
We find the facts proved. In making this finding we considered the evidence of Mrs Susan Byrne, the content of the internet log and Mr Walker’s statement. Mr Walker admits that he used the school computer and internet facilities for personal use, but asserts that his use was not excessive. In view of the involvement of the BETT team, Mr Walker claims that he was only teaching a year 8 class during the relevant period and that internet access at those times was relevant to the lessons. However, the log clearly indicates that, even during these year 8 lessons, he was accessing sites such as ebay and also emailing the former pupil identified in allegation 1. Mrs Byrne also explained in her evidence the role of the BETT team in the year 11 classes, which did not free Mr Walker from teaching in those lessons. The log clearly shows that Mr Walker was accessing commercial sites and discussion forums frequently for his own private and business purposes during teaching time. The logs also clearly show that, during PPA time, Mr Walker accessed a number of sites not relevant to preparation, planning and assessment and that he emailed the former pupil identified in allegation 1. We accepted the evidence of Mrs Byrne that Mr Walker told her that he knew what PPA time was for. By way of example, on 29 January 2007, Mr Walker accessed ebay and a discussion forum during PPA time. On 2 February 2007 he sent an email to the former pupil and contacted a seller on ebay during PPA time.
3. during the period of your suspension acted inappropriately by :
(a) contacting colleagues regarding matters relating to the suspension;
We find the facts of 3(a) proved. Mr Walker admits that he contacted colleagues. This is evidenced by his email of 19 May 2007 which was sent to all staff in the school and related specifically to his suspension. We are satisfied that this was inappropriate given that the suspension letter to Mr Walker stated that he should not make contact with any staff or pupils.
(b) publicised facts about your suspension and the investigation into your conduct both by your own acts and through your representative;
We find the facts of 3(b) proved. Mr Walker admits to ‘merely’ commenting to the press. However, we have been provided with a copy of a report from the Sunday Sun dated 17 June 2007, in which Mr Walker is reported to have made a number of assertions about the reasons for his suspension. We also note that his representative, Mr Patrick Harrington, made a statement on the Solidarity trade union website regarding Mr Walker’s suspension and referred to a scheduled investigatory meeting, which should have remained confidential to the school, Mr Walker and his representative. We are satisfied that these actions were inappropriate.
(c) condoned a demonstration outside the school in relation to your suspension.
We find the facts of 3(c) proved. Mr Walker asserts that the demonstration had ‘nothing to do with’ him. However, as we have already found in relation to 3(b), Mr Walker’s representative made a statement on the Solidarity trade union website regarding Mr Walker’s suspension, which referred not only to a scheduled investigatory meeting on 3 September, but also to the fact that Civil Liberty had called for a demonstration outside of the school the same day. We have also been provided with a copy of the leaflet produced by Civil Liberty which publicised the planned demonstration. In addition we noted that it was a finding of fact made by the Employment Tribunal that ‘Mr Walker addressed the crowd through a megaphone to give his thanks for their support’. We are satisfied that Mr Walker condoned the demonstration and that, in doing so, he acted inappropriately. The demonstration caused disruption and distress to staff, parents and year 7 pupils for whom this was their first day at Sunnydale College.
Findings as to Unacceptable Professional Conduct
We are satisfied that, in relation to the facts found proved in allegations 1, 2, 3 (a), (b) and (c), the conduct of Mr Walker fell short of the standards expected of a registered teacher and was a breach of the standards of propriety expected of the profession. Accordingly, Mr Walker is guilty of unacceptable professional conduct.
In relation to allegation 1, although the email exchange with the pupil took place after the pupil had left the school in June 2006, we have heard that the pupil was particularly vulnerable and that members of staff at the school had been made aware of this in or around April 2006. In our view, Mr Walker had a professional responsibility to maintain appropriate boundaries with a vulnerable person who had so recently been a pupil at the school. We consider this to involve a breach of a position of trust, which brings the reputation and standing of the profession into serious disrepute. In addition, some of the email exchanges took place during teaching and PPA time, using the school computer.
In relation to allegation 2, we are satisfied that Mr Walker breached paragraph 6 of the Code of Conduct and Practice for Registered Teachers dated 1 November 2004 in that he used school facilities for private and business purposes and thereby failed to maintain appropriate standards of integrity in the use of school property. We are satisfied that it is a clear breach of trust for teachers to be focussed on personal or business interests when they should be teaching.
In relation to 3(a), (b) and (c), we are satisfied that Mr Walker breached paragraph 6 of the Code in that he inappropriately publicised details relating to his suspension, which should have remained confidential in his own interests. This compromised the whole disciplinary process and involved, not only other staff members, but the local community. This represents a very serious breach of professional standards. Mr Walker was concentrating solely on his own interests and showed a complete disregard for the safety and wellbeing of pupils and staff at the school. This conduct brings the reputation and standing of the profession into serious disrepute.
Determination of Sanction
We first considered whether to close the case without making a disciplinary order, but decided that this outcome would not be appropriate in view of the seriousness of the conduct in question.
We then considered whether to impose a reprimand, but decided that this would not be appropriate. Mr Walker has shown no insight into the seriousness of his conduct. The conduct cannot be described as an isolated incident as the internet access and email correspondence continued over a period of time. The conduct in question is too serious for a reprimand.
We then considered whether to impose a Conditional Registration Order, but decided that this would not be appropriate. We could not formulate appropriate or practical conditions that would address our concerns in this case.
We then considered whether to impose a Suspension Order. However, in our view, Mr Walker has demonstrated a significant and persistent lack of insight into the seriousness and consequences of his actions, particularly in relation to his email correspondence with the former pupil.
We have, therefore, decided to impose a Prohibition Order. We consider that Mr Walker’s abuse of a position of trust with a vulnerable individual is extremely serious. This conduct is fundamentally incompatible with continuing to be a registered teacher. We consider this to be a proportionate sanction, which is necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the teaching profession and declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct.
This means that Mr Walker is struck off the Teaching Register indefinitely and cannot teach in maintained schools or non-maintained special schools. He may apply for permission to re-register, but not until 2 years from the date of this order at the earliest. If he does apply, a panel will meet to consider whether his eligibility to register, and therefore to teach, should be restored. Without a successful application, Mr Walker remains barred from teaching indefinitely.
This order takes effect from today.
If this Order expires because of a decision of a future Committee it will be clearly marked as expired on the Council’s Register.
Mr Walker has a right of appeal to the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court within 28 days from the date he is given notice of this Order.
Note I've copied this from an MS document but it's real and I can post the original documents online if you want.
Thanks to Matthew Collins from Hope not Hate for sending it on.