Late night underwear chat with students gets teacher life ban
PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 July 2019
The head of PE at a Bexley school has been banned from the class for life after a disciplinary panel found he had taken part in sordid online conversations with two schoolboys.
Robert Donnelly was employed as head of PE at St Columba's Catholic Boys School in Halcot Avenue, Bexleyheath, until his resignation on April 26 last year.
An investigation was launched when his conversations became known to education chiefs, and the matter was then escalated to a panel at the Teaching Regulation Agency.
The students, only referred to as Pupil A and B, were exchanging personal messages with the teacher online.
During those late night conversations, the question of what underwear the students wore came up, along with questions about one student's genital position in relation to their underwear. It was implied the teacher was at one time naked on his bed during a conversation with Pupil B.
Both students were also members of a football club managed by Mr Donnelly.
The disciplinary panel said during a conversation with Pupil A about the student's underwear size, Mr Donnelly claimed his "intention in sending the messages was to support Pupil A as a football player and ensure that he was wearing appropriate clothing to minimise the risk of injury".
However, the panel noted that there was no evidence of a history of sports injuries associated with wearing incorrect underwear in the football team, and they determined the forum, and the context in which the advice was given, was inappropriate.
Mr Donnelly also purchased underwear for Pupil A, which in the panel's view was also highly inappropriate.
In documents to the panel, the teacher claimed: "my perception of appropriate boundaries had become blurred…
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"The messages I sent to Pupils A and B were of the type which I might have sent to friends of my own age and I accept that it was not appropriate to send them to pupils of the age of A and B".
The panel said it found the teacher's conduct was "flirtatious, of a sexual nature and sexually motivated given the context and content of the conversations, in addition to the time the messages were sent."
It concluded: "Initially the conversations, instigated by Mr Donnelly late at night, were of a non-sexual nature.
"The conversations then escalated, by Mr Donnelly, into discussions about underwear (including advice on types and size) and in the case of Pupil B, there was reference to his genitalia."
The disciplinary panel concluded: "In this case, the panel has found all of the allegations proven and found that those proven facts amount to unacceptable professional conduct and conduct that may bring the profession into disrepute.
"The panel has made a recommendation to the Secretary of State that Mr Donnelly should be the subject of a prohibition order, with no provision for a review period."
This means he cannot ever apply for another teaching job as his conduct "fell significantly short of the standards expected of the profession" because of his "sexual activity".
In the panel's damning report, it found: "In light of the panel's findings against Mr Donnelly, which involved inappropriate conduct which was considered to be of a sexual nature and sexually motivated, there was a strong public interest consideration in respect of the protection of pupils given the serious findings of inappropriate relationships with children."
In coming to its findings, the panel took into account Mr Donnelly's witness statement: "where he stated that he realised his actions were misguided, showed a lack of understanding of child protection procedures, breached professional boundaries and were entirely inappropriate.
"He was profoundly sorry for any distress his actions caused to any member of the football team of which he was immensely proud.
"He realised that his lack of judgement meant that he ran the risk of being barred from the profession he loves and to which he had dedicated his adult life."