Bury St Edmunds teacher gets banned from England’s classrooms - for life

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A Bury St Edmunds teacher has been banned from the country’s classrooms for life for touching three pupils ‘inappropriately’ and watching pornography in school.

David Heap, 57, received the ban in a decision announced today on behalf of Education Secretary Michael Gove.

It follows a disciplinary panel finding that he was guilty of unacceptable professional conduct whilst employed as Head of Science at Westley Middle School, where he worked for 26 years.

Though the National College for Teaching and Leadership professional conduct panel took the view his behaviour did not constitute ‘serious sexual misconduct’, it found that, between December 2010 and December 2011, Heap ‘touched pupils inappropriately during lessons.

A teacher (identified in the findings as Witness A) gave written evidence that, on 10 December 2010, she entered a classroom and witnessed Heap sitting at his desk, surrounded by pupils, with his right hand between the leg of a pupil (identified as Pupil B) with the palm of his hand resting on Pupil B’s upper thigh.

Panel chair Sheba Joseph said: “Witness A says she was horrified by what she saw and left the room unnoticed. Witness A goes on in her statement to say that in order to be sure about what she had seen, she re- entered the classroom and Mr Heap’s hand was still in the same position.”

A teaching assistant, Witness B, also gave evidence that she saw Heap stroking the head of another pupil (identified as Pupil A) in an affectionate way.

The panel chair said: “When questioned in oral evidence, Witness B was clear about the nature of the contact, saying that it was not sexual, but it was a ‘lingering’ and ‘stroking’ touch, which lasted for between 30 seconds to a minute. Witness B said in oral evidence that the touching took place openly, in front of a classroom of 30 pupils. She described the contact as ‘odd’ and inappropriate, and said that it made her feel uncomfortable.”

Another teaching assistant gave evidence that, during a lesson on 6 December 2011, she witnessed Heap rubbing Pupil A on the head, rubbing his arm and stroking the inside of Pupil A’s right thigh.

Heap denied the allegations, but the panel found them proved on the balance of probabilities.

It also found that he had pornographic DVDs and magazines in school. The deputy head gave evidence that he and another teacher had found seven magazines and two DVDs in Heap’s desk drawers.

The panel chair said: “The panel probed the deputy head in relation to the nature of the material and the witness gave clear evidence about the explicit nature of the magazines and DVDs, categorising them as adult pornography.”

Heap also watched the pornography DVDs on the school computer on one or more occasions, in direct contravention of school policy.

Recommending a Prohibition Order, the panel chair said: “We are satisfied that Mr Heap’s conduct fell significantly short of the standards expected of a teacher. We consider that by touching pupils in such a manner, Mr Heap crossed boundaries which should be observed by all teachers and abused his position of trust as a teacher.

“Mr Heap’s conduct in possessing and viewing pornographic material in school was also in contravention of the teaching standard to have proper and professional regard for the ethos, policies and practices of the school. We consider that any teacher would be aware that this behaviour would be inappropriate for a teacher.”

Giving the final decision on behalf of the Secretary of State, education department official Paul Heathcote said: “Mr Heap has failed to observe appropriate boundaries with pupils and has breached his position of trust. He has also failed to have proper regard for the need to safeguard pupils’ well-being and failed to have proper regard for the ethos, policies and practices of the school.

“Whilst Mr Heap had a previously good teaching record, there is no evidence to suggest he was acting under duress or that his actions were not deliberate. Mr Heap was issued with a clear management instruction to desist from the type of behaviour he was exhibiting and contravened this on two further occasions.

“He was aware that possessing pornographic materials in school and viewing them on school computers was entirely inappropriate yet they were stored on the premises for at least 12 months and the DVDs watched on seven separate occasions. In all the circumstances I agree that a prohibition order is an appropriate and proportionate sanction.”

Although the panel found Mr Heap’s behaviour did not constitute serious sexual misconduct, he said Heap had failed to accept that there has been an issue with his conduct in respect of the allegation concerning inappropriate touching of pupils and had continued to deny the allegations without offering any explanation.

As a result, he agreed with the panel that Heap should not be able to apply to have the order lifted.

The decision means Heap is prohibited from teaching indefinitely in any school, sixth form college, relevant youth accommodation or children’s home in England. He has a right of appeal to the High Court.