A TEACHER who used to work at Kingsdown School sent almost 900 emails to a schoolgirl and upset another student by making an inappropriate joke during class.
Christopher Harper has been cleared of misconduct after the professional conduct panel decided his actions were “extremely naive” and that he had “expressed poor judgement”.
Mr Harper taught German at Kingsdown from September 2017 – when he joined the faculty as a newly-qualified teacher – until he was dismissed in July 2019.
During one Year 8 lesson, a pupil remarked that a classmate’s mother was single. According to a report, the teacher replied along the lines of “oo is she?” and then said words to the effect of “if I marry your mum, you can finally call me daddy”.
Mr Harper explained to the panel that he had intended the comment as a joke and that it was supposed to be a reference to popular comedy series The Inbetweeners.
The report stated the pupil had been upset by this remark because of “the personal and offensive nature of the comment which had been made at the pupil’s expense and had been an inappropriate comment to make to any pupil”.
This was not the only issue that had been raised about Mr Harper’s “unacceptable professional conduct” towards students during his 22 months at the school.
He exchanged hundreds of emails with a girl referred to in the misconduct report as Pupil C and by doing this, formed an inappropriate relationship with her.
The exchange, which included 2,579 emails altogether, began after Mr Harper offered all his pupils the chance to email him in a foreign language as a way of improving their own linguistic skills – but only Pupil C took up the offer.
The hearing found that the adolescent recipient of these emails became infatuated with her mentor, though Mr Harper did not realise this.
Although the emails were “over familiar”, the panel said there was no evidence to show he had any “malicious or inappropriate motivations towards Pupil C”.
The panel observed: “The panel found no evidence, and no evidence was presented to it, that Mr Harper’s motivations in engaging in extensive email correspondence with Pupil C had been motivated by anything other than an attempt to develop Pupil C’s language skills and pass on his enthusiasm for the German language.”
There were other examples of Mr Harper stepping outside his professional boundaries.
After he received a Valentine’s Day card from a pupil’s aunt who he met at a parents’ evening, he was advised not to contact her – but he briefly exchanged texts with her anyway, beginning and ending this text conversation during the course of one day.
On another occasion, he remarked to Year 11 pupils that he was going to go speed dating at the weekend, which the panel considered to be crossing the line.
While he hugged one pupil to try and calm her down because she was upset, another pupil asked him to hug her as well, and he did as a “light-hearted gesture”. The panel found that this was well-intentioned but unprofessional.
The hearing concluded that Mr Harper’s genuine and sincere remorse and the realisation of where he had gone wrong as well as the public interest in retaining him in the profession because he is a good teacher was enough to allow him to continue in this career.
No further sanctions were deemed necessary following the publication of the details of his misconduct, which was considered to be in the public interest.
Sarah Buxcey summarised: “The panel finds that the conduct of Mr Harper fell significantly short of the standards expected of the profession.”
A spokeswoman for Kingsdown School said: “The communication with Pupil C was brought to the attention of the school among other allegations included within the published report. The school took swift and immediate action to formally investigate the matter, leading to the dismissal of Mr Harper in July 2019.
“At Kingsdown School, we pride ourselves on our exceptionally high and proven standards of our safeguarding procedures and processes.”