Teacher who had student photos on laptop spared a ban

News from the Boston Standard, Lincolnshire: bostonstandard.co.uk, on Twitter @standardboston
News from the Boston Standard, Lincolnshire: bostonstandard.co.uk, on Twitter @standardboston

A teacher who had pictures of pupils stored on his laptop was spared a ban from the profession by education secretary Michael Gove.

John Hepworth, 63, was found by the Teaching Agency to have committed ‘unacceptable professional conduct’ while teaching at the William Lovell school in Stickney.

The agency’s discplinary panel found that Mr Hepworth had stored images of children - male and female - on his school computer.

It said: “He seems to have stored all of his personal photographs on this school laptop and it is probable that some of the images were downloaded from social networking sites.

“In our judgment the behaviour demonstrated is misconduct of a serious nature that falls significantly short of the standard of behaviour expected of a teacher.”

The panel could not prove not other allegations that Hepworth encouraged and engaged in inappropriate contact with pupils using social networking websites, sent inappropriate letters and cards to pupils and made inappropriate gestures and physical contact with pupils.

The panel said: “There is no evidence available indicating that any improper communications took place. Mr Hepworth probably did communicate with students through Facebook but we are not satisfied that the communication was iappropriate.

“Many schools now regard teacher student social networking contact as inappropriate but we are not satisfied that this was the approach of this school at this time.”

Adding that it was not satisfied on the evidence that letters and cards sent to students were inappropriate, the panel states: “There have been no complaints about them and they do not appear to have been made personal in any way. There was little demonstrated intimacy in what he wrote.”

And it said that it was not satisfied that “ winks” given by Hepworth were necessarily inappropriate “in the absence of any evidence that they were made in a lascivious way.”

The findings add that students’ accounts suggested that any physical contact only took place when they were in distress.

The panel recommended that a Prohibition Order (a teaching ban) would be a disproportionate measure in the circumstances and that Mr Hepworth’s conduct did not demonstrate incompatibility with being a teacher.

It added: “The education and well-being of students has not, in our view, been seriously affected.”

Acting on the Secretary of State’s behalf, Teaching Agency deputy director Alan Meyrick, agreed with the panel that a teaching ban would bve ‘disproportionate’ and chose not to enforce one.

Mr Meyrick said: “I have considered carefully the recommendation of the panel in terms of sanction.

“Prohibition must be both in the public interest and proportionate. I accept the panel’s recommendation that in this case a prohibition order is not appropriate.”

Mr Hepworth retired in 2010 and the charges relate to his last year in the job.

He was dismissed from his role by the school as a result of this incident after he had retired. The school stands by its actions.