Teacher tells of fear ruining our schools

Defendant cleared after taping pupils' mouths shut says teachers have to work in "an atmosphere of extreme fear"
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The Independent Online

A teacher prosecuted for taping a rowdy pupil's lips together yesterday condemned her treatment and said her profession was no longer being treated with the respect it deserved.

A teacher prosecuted for taping a rowdy pupil's lips together yesterday condemned her treatment and said her profession was no longer being treated with the respect it deserved.

Bridgette Tarwala walked free from court on Thursday after a judge cleared her of assaulting a nine-year-old girl. The charge was dismissed after the pupil admitted volunteering to have her lips taped. The 53-year-old supply teacher explained that several children had asked to have masking tape put over their mouths as a bit of light relief at the end of a noisy lesson.

Ms Tarwala claimed it was "a hilarious moment" and the children knew it was a joke. "Their laughter was so loud I thought it could be heard at the other end of the school. It was a lovely moment," she told Radio 4's Today programme.

She said she "went into shock" when she realised that it was being treated as a disciplinary matter.

The judge said the case should never have come to court, describing the incident as "clearly no more than a bit of light-hearted fun in the classroom".

Yesterday, Ms Tarwala, from Basingstoke, in Hampshire, went on the offensive, claiming that teachers were no longer treated with respect. "This is really time for some common sense to prevail," she said. "Schools should not be operating in that atmosphere of extreme fear and worry, we should be allowed to do our job. Teachers need space and time to act like teachers. At the moment local authorities including the police, are prepared to fall into line with public opinion. Regrettably that sensitivity is extreme and unreasonable."

Ms Tarwala said the school had acted because of fear of what the media could do to its reputation. She said: "The professionalism that teachers enjoyed and the professional reputation and esteem in which they were held by the community have been lost. We are no longer treated as professionals. We are treated as some sort of para-professionals who have to be told what to do, have to be intensely supervised."

Alton magistrates court heard that Ms Tarwala had struggled to control the class during an art lesson at Worting County Junior School on 26 February this year. She then asked one of the children to fetch some tape in order to keep their lips together before asking the class who wanted to have "a bit of sticky tape".

One boy laughingly replied: "Yes, Miss, I've been noisy, I need some tape." The girl who had brought the tape then described how, one by one, the children had sticky tape put on their mouths, which she said they thought was "funny". The girl said she had queued up to have her mouth taped as she wanted to join in the fun and it had not hurt her.

But some parents complained to the headteacher, Sarah Hamill. Ms Tarwala was suspended during investigations by the police and the local education authority.

In March she was charged with assault for taping the mouths of seven pupils.

Last week the father of the girl who brought the case against Ms Tarwala condemned the judge's decision. "I really am absolutely amazed that a judge ... can sit there and say this is a condonable action," he said. "It really is ridiculous."

* The head of the Government's Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Dr Ken Boston, condemned leading figures in education who believed standards could only be maintained if enough pupils failed their A-levels. His message to them was "look at the quality of what has been achieved".There is expected to be a 22nd successive rise in pass rates among this year's results.