Fife teacher struck off for striking special needs pupil

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A SPECIAL needs teacher who hit an autistic pupil on the leg has been struck off.

Linda Steel, who worked at Rimbleton Primary School in Glenrothes, Fife, for more than 20 years, sparked an investigation when another member of staff raised concerns about her behaviour.

At a hearing of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) today (Tue), Susan Penman, a pupil support assistant, gave evidence in which she claimed Ms Steel admitted she had hit a six-year-old boy with learning difficulties on the leg.

Rimbleton Primary is a mainstream school with a special needs unit, in which Ms Steel had been working for two years.

Mrs Penman said: “I was on dinner hall duty when I heard one of the pupils swearing.

“The correct procedure was to take the child to a classroom for some quiet time.

“I walked him along to Ms Steel’s classroom and I apologised as I didn’t know she would be in there.

“I took the boy to another room which was separated by a partition and I sat him down in there.

“In the special needs unit there was a quiet room which we used as a calming influence. Once the children calmed down they would be allowed back out into the dinner hall or classroom, or wherever it was they had been removed from.

“Linda went into the room with the boy and I could hear him shouting, he is autistic and at the time his language was very limited which made him frustrated.

“I heard him swear a few times and then I heard a loud slap.”

Mrs Penman said the young boy went quiet and that Ms Steel came out of the room and closed the door.

She said: “When Linda came out the room the pupil was not making any noise, she said to me: ‘I’m sorry about that, he kicked me and I hit him back’.”

“I felt very uncomfortable so I made an excuse to leave and took the boy with me back to the dinner hall.

“He started swearing again but I was worried about taking him back along to the classroom.”

Mrs Penman spoke with another member of the additional support team, Margaret Heggie, and reportedly told her: “I can’t take him back there, she’s just hit him.”

The pair decided to take the child to the medical room and it was suggest that they check his leg for a mark because Mrs Penman said the slap “sounded really hard”.

Mrs Penman said: “The boy was still in nappies so he was quite used to us changing him.

“We took down his trousers and saw a red mark on his right thigh.

“There were three or four red welts and an outline of fingers.

“Margaret told me I had to report it to our line manager who was the depute head at the time, but I was so nervous because I knew how huge it was.

“I knew the accusation was massive, could potentially ruin someone’s career and life.”

The incident took place on 27 January 2009, but was not reported until two days later.

Mrs Penman said she sought advice from a senior teacher who also told her to report the incident.

However, she said she was concerned about how the matter would be discussed with Ms Steel, as she and the depute head were “quite friendly”.

Mrs Penman said: “I was job-sharing at the time so that was my last day working that week.

“I went home and discussed it with my husband, then the following day I contacted my union representative.

“The next day she phoned me back and told me that after discussing the situation with her senior officer, they would be forced report the incident if I didn’t.

“That afternoon I contacted the acting head teacher of the school, Euan Trusdale, and told him my account of what had happened.”

Mr Trusdale notified his line manager and he was appointed the investigating officer for the incident.

He conducted interviews with Mrs Penman, Ms Heggie and two other members of additional support staff.

He told GTC Scotland hearing: “The day after I had heard from Mrs Penman it was Friday, and I called Ms Steel for an interview.

“When I told her about the allegation being made against her she was shocked and upset.

“She denied it and asked if she could go home, which I thought was a reasonable request under the circumstances.

“She seemed very taken aback.”

Ms Steel was not present at the hearing and had no representation, but she had formally denied the accusation.

After deliberating, the panel found that the facts had been proven and that Ms Steel was guilty of relevant misconduct.

Niall McLean, representing the GTCS, said the proven facts showed that Ms Steel had failed to meet teaching expectations as she had acted in an “aggressive and violent manner in a classroom”.

He added that she had also failed to act honestly and with the integrity expected.

The sub-committee decided Ms Steel should be removed from the teaching register.

Jason Fitzgerald, convener, said: “The sub-committee considered that the nature of the conduct fell short of the standard expected of a registered teacher and therefore that the respondent was guilty of conduct which had material relevance to her fitness to be a registered teacher”

The sub-committee also decided that the teacher should be prohibited from applying for restoration to the register for a period of 12 months.

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