Exclusive: Art teacher who headbutted pupil prohibited from teaching five years after accepting caution over school incident


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The Independent Online

A teacher who violently assaulted a child in the classroom was given a criminal record for the attack but only faced a National College for Teaching & Leadership (NCTL) hearing about the incident five years later, The Independent can reveal.

Mark Lonnie, 53, was working at a secondary school for children with behavioural difficulties when, “acting under duress”, he headbutted a boy so hard the child suffered a chipped tooth and a bloodied mouth and nose.  

The teacher was initially cleared last month to resume teaching by the NCTL’s Professional Conduct Panel.  However, Michael Gove has now stepped in to overrule the decision and ban Mr Lonnie from teaching. It is only the second time the Education Secretary has gone against the National College for Teaching and Leadership’s (NCTL) professional conduct panel and banned a teacher from the profession.

The incident happened in 2009 when a boy, who had been removed from the classroom after misbehaving, returned and became aggressive.  Mr Lonnie reacted by headbutting him . Mr Lonnie subsequently received a caution for assault, and weeks later was sacked from his job as an art teacher at Wilds Lodge School in Leicestershire.

Yet six months later, an Ofsted social care inspection of the residential school for boys with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties praised “excellent relationships between the students and staff” and claimed: “Physical intervention is used as a last resort and is carried out appropriately and only to ensure the safety of students and staff.”

In a statement, an Ofsted spokesperson said: “In similar circumstances today we would refer to this serious incident in our inspection report.”

The case was not heard by the NCTL, which regulates teachers, until last month – five years after it had taken place. The report by its professional conduct panel, released last week, described how the pupil had become “very angry” and “verbally abused” Mr Lonnie.

“Pupil A pushed Mr Lonnie in the chest using both of his hands, in response, Mr Lonnie headbutted Pupil A,” it says. The teacher admitted his actions amounted to “unacceptable professional conduct and/or conduct that may bring the profession into disrepute”, according to the report.

The sacked teacher was able in principle to continue working with children despite accepting a criminal caution for assault on a pupil, although The Independent understands that he had not in fact done so in the years after the incident. But he recently “managed to obtain work as a supply teacher,” says the report.

Although the panel found him “guilty of unacceptable professional conduct” and concluded his actions “constitute conduct that may bring the profession into disrepute”, it noted he had “acted under duress [and] under genuine fear that an attack was imminent”.  The panel argued he was not “a threat to pupils” and “did not consider that it was in the public interest to make a prohibition order”.

In a statement on the Education Secretary’s behalf, NCTL official Paul Heathcote said: “In my view the panel has not sufficiently balanced the mitigation with the level of violence that resulted in a bloodied nose and a chipped tooth to a pupil. I have decided that a prohibition order is an appropriate and proportionate sanction in the public interest.”

Mr Lonnie could not be reached for comment, but Robin Lee, principal of Wilds Lodge, said: “Mr Lonnie was dismissed from Wilds Lodge School in June 2009. The school reported the matter to the police and the local Child Protection agencies at the time.”

He added: “We did wonder why the school was not asked to attend the NCTL’s disciplinary panel hearing last week, given the seriousness of the matter.” And he said Mr Gove’s decision to over-rule the panel and ban Mr Lonnie from teaching “did not come as a great surprise”.

* This article has been amended.  It originally implied that Mr Lonnie had continued to teach in the years after the incident which led to his sacking.  In fact, he did not work with children until taking up some supply teaching shortly before the NCTL panel hearing.  The piece also stated that Mr Lonnie had been arrested prior to receiving a caution in 2009.  In fact, we understand that he was not arrested.  In addition, the item was originally accompanied by a  stock image of a primary age child who appeared upset and meek.  The child involved in the incident being reported was a teenager at a secondary school for children with behavioural difficulties.  The NCTL panel noted that the child was physically larger than Mr Lonnie and that Mr Lonnie had acted under genuine fear of “imminent attack”.  The image has been removed and the text updated to reflect additional details about the incident. (11 July 2014)