May 23 2013 Latest news:
By EADT Reporter
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
A FORMER Woodbridge teacher who sent sexual messages to a vulnerable pupil at his former school via Facebook has been banned from the country’s classrooms.
Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove banned Benjamin Conway from teaching for at least the next five years.
Mr Gove’s ban follows a Teaching Agency disciplinary panel finding that Conway was guilty of “unacceptable professional conduct” while employed as Head of Religious Studies at the Jo Richardson School, in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.
The panel found that, over a six month period between October 2007 and March 2008, 36-year old Conway engaged in inappropriate communication via Facebook with a pupil he previously taught at Farlingaye High School, Woodbridge, Suffolk. He left Farlingaye at the start of the academic year 2007/8.
The panel found that, after he left, he sent a number of increasingly inappropriate messages to a pupil, who at the time was aged 16/17, including messages of an “overtly sexual nature”.
Although Conway denied the allegations, claiming that he was the victim of fraud, the panel found that there was “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” in the case.
It said: “Mr Conway’s assertion that he is the victim of an elaborate fraud on his Facebook account in our view beggars belief.
“We have learnt that many students whom Mr Conway would have known were listed as friends on the account such that anyone masquerading as Mr Conway would have had to engage in a complex and multiple deception.
“Apart from his verbal protestations that he was not the person using this account he has not advanced any independent evidence to suggest that he was the victim of a fraud nor any reason to suggest the motive behind such an elaborate and sustained deception.”
The panel said that he was a former class teacher to the pupil, who he knew was “vulnerable”, and held a position of trust. However, it said that he made a “number of wholly inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to her and sent other suggestive messages”.
It added: “She reported the conversations to her headteacher because she felt ‘uncomfortable’ and considered that when he asked if she had a webcam ‘it was going too far’.
“In our judgement this was conduct of a serious nature and we have no hesitation in finding that Mr Conway’s behaviour fell significantly short of the standards the public expect of the profession.
“This was a serious departure, over a sustained period of time, from the personal and professional standards expected of teachers and an abuse of Mr Conway’s position. This conduct may well have caused the pupil considerable anxiety. It was wholly improper behaviour.”
Though the police concluded that there was no criminal case to answer, his school conducted its own internal investigation which established that some of the offending messages were sent during school time. Conway resigned in October 2008.
Giving yesterday’s decision on the Secretary of State’s behalf, Teaching Agency deputy director Alan Meyrick said: “Mr Conway used Facebook to conduct a wholly unacceptable relationship with a vulnerable pupil that he sustained over a period of time. In doing so, his conduct fell seriously short of the standards expected of a teacher.
“Mr Conway’s behaviour had the potential to cause serious harm to a vulnerable pupil.
“Moreover, the continuing denial of the incident by Mr Conway in the face of overwhelming evidence, and his attempt to blame the pupil for the actions suggests a total lack of insight into, or responsibility for, his own behaviour.
“I support the recommendation of the panel in respect of a prohibition and also in respect of the period of five years before a review can be considered.”
The decision means that Conway is prohibited from teaching in any school, Sixth Form College, relevant youth accommodation or children’s home in England.
He may apply for the Prohibition Order to be set aside, but not until 19 October 2017, and if he does so he will have to persuade a panel that he is fit to teach again.
He has a right of appeal to the High Court.