Agency ignored warnings over teacher cleared of sex assaults

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The Independent Online

Child protection officers had warned that a supply teacher cleared yesterday of indecently assaulting two male pupils might "pose a risk to children" before she started working at the school in question.

Amy Gehring, 26, a Canadian working as a biology teacher at a Surrey comprehensive, was found not guilty at Guildford Crown Court of four charges of indecent assault against boys aged 14 and 15.

The Department for Education and Skills said last night the case raised "extremely serious issues" regarding supply teachers, thousands of which are used by schools every day to plug staffing shortages.

And headteachers demanded the removal of a "loophole" allowing supply teachers to escape disciplinary action after criminal proceedings.

Ms Gehring will still be barred from teaching for misconduct, despite the verdict. A source at the DfES said last night: "She will not be allowed back in any school in the UK."

During the court case, she admitted she could not remember whether she had sex with one pupil because she had been drunk at a party and took the "morning after" pill as a result.

The warning from Surrey County Council's Child Protection unit was delivered to TimePlan, the agency employing her, after an allegation that she had slept with a boy at a previous school where she had worked – also in Surrey.

A police investigation was immediately launched, but no charges were brought. Even so, the child protection team voiced strong reservations about her and her future as a teacher in a letter to the agency, warning that she "specifically targeted boys and entered into sexually inappropriate relationships with them". The letter, sent on 9 November 2000, was never acted upon. It was found in the agency's Surrey offices when TimePlan set up an inquiry into the affair this month.

Ms Gehring started a short-term contract at the school on 20 November. The DfES said it would have considered putting her on the 2,500-strong list of barred teachers after the first allegation if it had been informed.

Headteachers demanded ministers close a loophole that lets supply teachers escape disciplinary action. "If she was employed by a school, she would ... have been suspended and would have been disciplined for highly inappropriate behaviour," David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said. "It's time that the private teaching agencies were put under the same obligation."

TimePlanadmitted it made an "appalling mistake" and said a director, Chris King, had resigned even though he had not been informed about the letter by his local office. The director of TimePlan's Surrey office, Rob Stonier, has been dismissed. "TimePlan accepts full responsibility for the actions of our Surrey director and apologises unreservedly," it said last night.

Ms Gehring's solicitor, David Todd, said last night: "It stands to reason Amy is both pleased and delighted at today's verdict. It must be remembered that this case has hung over her head for over a year. She is certainly looking forward to returning home, well away from the public eye."