The wrong lesson: A teenager cannot 'groom' a 44-year-old teacher


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Schoolteachers are in a unique position: tutor, guide, mentor and often counsellor. The relationship they have with their pupils is based principally on trust; on the confident belief that the teacher is working in the best interests of the child.

Key to this belief are the clear and well-defined boundaries of the teacher and pupil roles, which go beyond the simple fact that one is inhabited by adults and the other by children. It is imperative to our faith in the education system that teachers ensure those boundaries are maintained.  

In this context, the judge’s sentencing remarks in the case of former teacher Stuart Kerner are difficult to fathom. Kerner, a married man in his forties who had risen to the position of vice-principal, conducted an affair with a 16-year-old pupil. Having denied all the charges against him – and been cleared of several – Kerner was convicted of two counts of sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust.

Yet in handing down a suspended sentence, the judge’s description of Kerner as having been “groomed” and “stalked” by his “manipulative” victim undermines the very principle on which the crime for which he has been convicted is based. Teachers and pupils are not equals. But it is for teachers to preserve that position, not those who are in their care.

Whatever the particular circumstances of this case, it is Kerner’s pupil who is the victim; not Kerner.