12-month ban for 'inappropriate' teacher

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The Independent Online

A teacher was banned from the classroom for one year today for inappropriate contact with teenage schoolgirls on the internet.

Nathan John asked to join a 13-year-old girl in the bath in one secret conversation on a social networking site.

The technology teacher went on to warn her he would "smack her bum" when he saw her at school the next day.

In another conversation he suggested to a teenage girl that he could take photographs of her, warning her not to tell anyone.

His behaviour was condemned today by a panel of peers at a General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) disciplinary hearing, sitting in Cardiff.

They handed out a suspension order and removed his name from the teaching register for one year with immediate effect.

Mr John was not present to contest any of the claims against him but had written a letter in which he apologised for his conduct.

He was working at Llanrumney High School in Cardiff, South Wales, in one of the city's most deprived areas, when the claims first surfaced in April 2008.

Panel chairwoman Jackie Turnball made it clear today that lesser punishments were ruled out because of the seriousness of the case.

"There is evidence that pupils were adversely affected by his behaviour. His actions were not isolated and they were deliberate."

She said he had failed in his duty to "maintain public confidence in teaching".

Despite an apology and recognition that his conduct was wrong, "this should always have been clear to him", she said.

The teacher's secret suggestions and contact with "numerous" teenage schoolgirls were revealed when one complained she was "too embarrassed" to attend his classes.

One exchange took place on the social networking site, Bebo, with a 13-year-old girl from his school, the GTCW panel heard.

She finished the conversation, saying: "I have got to go now and have a bath", said Emma Poole, reading evidence at the panel today.

Mr John then asked: "Can I come?" To which she replied: "No."

"I will see you at school tomorrow and smack your bum," he added, before making remarks about her "nice bum".

Mr John is then said to have added: "I have just had a sauna and all my bits are shrivelled up."

Mr John was also accused of contacting another 13-year-old girl from the school using MSN Messenger while he was off sick himself.

Ms Poole said the girl was at home when she received an online request from Mr John to join her network of friends.

Once accepted he asked why she did not have a photo profile and was told by the girl it was due to a "lack of confidence".

"Mr John then offered to take a photo of her to boost her self- confidence, saying that she was not to tell anyone."

In a separate incident, Mr John sent a Christmas card to a 13-year-old female pupil he had never taught.

In it he wrote that the card was "lush like you", later claiming he was using the language of his pupils and did it to boost her confidence.

The GTCW panel concluded today that the charge of inappropriate contact with pupils via the internet, and all the details relating to it, was proved.

It amounted to unacceptable professional conduct.

The panel heard Mr John was suspended pending an inquiry into the claims against him which were not fully known at the time.

Before it got under way parents of one of the girls contacted the school and made allegations which were more serious.

They had also reported Mr John to the police and all parties were interviewed. No criminal charges were ever pursued.

Mr John was later officially dismissed at a hearing, which he did not attend but did send in a letter of resignation beforehand.

The GTCW heard he initially appeared "shocked" by the allegations but later acknowledged his innocent contact could be "taken that way".

Later he claimed he found the school "challenging" and had just wanted to fit in.

In a letter to the GTCW panel, he described himself as "naive and foolish" but gave no hint of whether he admitted the charges.

Donald Barnfield, the school's headteacher, described Mr John in evidence today as "at all times a very co-operative and helpful member of staff".

Mr John was appointed in September 2005 as a recently qualified but mature teacher who previously taught GNVQ construction at college.

"If you spoke to him in terms of 'Let's try this strategy or let's try that', he was always extremely amenable."

He said when he first spoke to Mr John about the claims, he confirmed he had had contact with female pupils.

At the time he had said that the language he used with them had been "their language".

He said at that time the school did not have a specific policy covering social networking sites because they were still quite new.

Mr John had set up a Bebo page for the school as an online showcase for work done by pupils.

Pupils could also send in work via email and receive feedback from staff.

Mr Barnfield said Mr John would have gone on courses, as a new teacher, which would have highlighted internet policy at a county level, which applied to him.