Teacher gets go-ahead to stay in classroom despite ‘inappropriate’ pupil friendship

Churchill Academy.

Churchill Academy. - Credit: Archant

A TEACHER who left herself vulnerable to a string of allegations by fostering an ‘inappropriate’ friendship with a senior pupil has been given the go-ahead to carry on teaching.

Rachel Ridley worked as the religious studies co-ordinator at Churchill Community School and Sixth Form from 2005 until her dismissal in 2007.

A disciplinary panel from the National College For Teaching And Leadership has now ruled she had been guilty of ‘unacceptable professional conduct’, but stopped short of banning her from the country’s classrooms.

The findings relate to a friendship which developed between Ridley, aged 34, and a female year 12 pupil named only as ‘Student A’.

The panel heard how Ridley had ‘failed to maintain appropriate professional boundaries’ and had, despite a written warning from the school, regularly communicated with the student via phone and text message.

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One example cited how the pair had spoken for an hour in a call which began past midnight on a school night.

However, the girl went on to allege Ridley had gone further, attempting to kiss her, meeting her at hotels, and claiming to be in love with her – all allegations which were dismissed by the panel.

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Despite panel members rejecting the girl’s version of events, they criticised Ridley for leaving herself vulnerable to allegations from a ‘deceitful’ student by fostering such a close friendship.

Panel chair Fiona Tankard said: “The panel had to consider two completely opposing accounts from Student A and Ms Ridley without independent witness evidence to verify either account.

“The panel had the benefit of hearing from Ms Ridley’s husband, Ms Ridley’s sister and Ms Ridley’s friend in person, each of whom the panel found credible.

“The panel did not find Student A’s evidence in person to be reliable because in a number of respects her oral evidence differed significantly from that she had provided in her statement.

“Parent A also gave evidence to the panel that Student A had been ‘deceitful’ and ‘out of control’ at the time.

“The panel considered that Ms Ridley had crossed the line between a student/teacher relationship and created a friendship which left her open to the allegations and had not been in Ms Ridley’s best interests or those of Student A.

“The panel does not accept that there is any credible evidence of physical contact between Ms Ridley and Student A, although the relationship undoubtedly became inappropriate.”

In delivering the final decision on behalf of the Education Secretary Michael Gove, Paul Heathcote said: “Ms Ridley faced a number of allegations and having admitted some, her evidence in respect of the remaining allegations has been found to be reliable.

“The panel have found that her conduct amounts to unacceptable professional conduct but have determined that her conduct is not so serious that it would bring the profession into disrepute as it accepted Ms Ridley’s account that she was acting out of caring motives.”

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