Paedophile teacher: School ignored 30 warnings over 14 years

PUBLISHED: 10:00 26 January 2012 | UPDATED: 16:58 27 January 2012

Archant

A PREDATORY teacher who filmed himself sexually abusing children in his classroom could have been stopped up to 14 years earlier if the THIRTY concerns raised over his 'inappropriate' behaviour had not been ignored.

In December 2010, the Mercury broke news of the arrest of Hillside First School teacher Nigel Leat on a string of child abuse charges.

In June last year a judge at Bristol Crown Court ordered him to face an indefinite jail sentence, and since then inquiries have been taking place to help understand how Leat’s crimes went undetected throughout his 15-year teaching career.

Today (Thursday) the results of that inquiry can be revealed for the first time – and the report makes grim reading.

It catalogues 30 different complaints which were made to senior teachers about Leat’s behaviour towards his six and seve-year-old pupils – including conduct which should have been an immediate red flag.

These included Leat being found semi-dressed in his Worle classroom. His explanation for being found in his underpants was that he was changing for PE. A teacher who raised concerns about the incident was told ‘she should not accuse him of things’.

A teacher who was observing Leat’s lessons ‘noticed that a child had her hand up (Leat’s) trouser leg, stroking his leg’. She did not complain.

On at least three occasions, children reported that Leat was ‘touching their legs and kissing one of them’. The school kept no record of this.

A teaching assistant saw Leat sitting on cushions with a female pupil, and noted he was sexually aroused.

When a parent complained to the school about Leat taking pictures of her daughter on his mobile phone, he denied it. The mother said she felt Leat was ‘lying’ and her concerns had been ‘dismissed’ by the school.

Other complaints included children posing inappropriately with the teacher for pictures taken on the school camera, and that fact that Leat showed his class a pornographic image on the classroom’s overhead projector.

Another teaching assistant who raised concerns was told she ‘should not insinuate things’.

Of the 30 complaints made, 11 made it onto Leat’s formal record. Yet none of the concerns raised were reported outside the school – and he remained in his post.

However, the concerns over the inappropriateness of Leat’s classroom behaviour was of such common knowledge that class groups were shaped in such a way that girls ‘identified as likely favourites were allocated to other classes’.

Indeed, one teaching assistant even quit her job because of her concerns over Leat’s behaviour, and the fact ‘she had lost faith in the likelihood of her concerns being acted upon’.

The report says: “Within a year of his appointment, and throughout the time that he worked in the school, a number of teaching and support staff in the school had a variety of concerns about the teacher.

“The overwhelming impression is that (Leat’s) behaviour was characterised by a general lax approach to teaching and classroom discipline with significant displays of favouritism towards a small number of children in his class.

“These pupils were allowed to be over-familiar with the teacher, who was known to speak and joke with his pupils in a manner which was inappropriately adult.

“The failure to address the favouritism towards certain pupils is indicative of poor performance management and should have been of particular concern as it was recognised that the favouritism was shown only to girls and was accompanied by an over-familiarity between (Leat) and pupils with whom he was frequently observed to be in inappropriately close physical contact.

“These pupils were invariably girls and were described by staff members as pupils who were less academically able, emotionally needy and pretty.

“The management report from the school makes reference to at least 30 incidents of inappropriate or unprofessional conduct involving the teacher. These ranged from inappropriate lesson content, through over-familiarity with children to indecent touching.

“Much of the behaviour exhibited by the teacher was typical of grooming activities pursued by adults intent on sexually abusing children.

“The failure of school managers to take action in response to the concerns raised was compounded by the failure of anyone in the school to recognise that the teacher’s behaviour might have constituted grooming for sexual abuse.”

The report goes on to speak of a ‘lamentable’ failure by management, and says: “The concerns raised about the teacher should have prompted notifications to the chair of governors and colleagues in the local authority.

“The school failed to make such notifications.

“There is a substantial body of evidence that points to the fact that the concerns about the behaviour, teaching practice and relationships of the teacher were not appropriately dealt with.”

The contents of this report were due to be shared with parents at two behind-closed-doors meetings last night (Weds) but have only been made public this morning.

Also included in the report is a range of measures being taken to ensure there can be no repeat of 51-year-old Leat’s conduct.

These include policy strategies such as ensuring teachers are properly trained to spot danger signs in colleagues, and simple practical measures like putting windows in Hillside’s classroom doors.

Leat himself remains behind bars, after pleading guilty to 36 charges, including 22 counts of of sexually assaulting a child, eight accounts of sexual assault by penetration, one attempted rape, one of attempted voyeurism, one of causing a child to commit sexual activity, and two of possessing indecent images of children.

When police arrested him, they discovered around 30,500 indecent pictures and 720 such movies in his possession.

More than 450 of the videos were ones he made himself, and contained footage of him abusing Hillside pupils.

Hillside headeatcher Chris Hood was suspended from his position in January 2011, and has since been dismissed.

* You can read the full report of the North Somerset Safeguarding Children’s Board into Nigel Leat’s abuse at Hillside First School by clicking the link on the top right-hand side of this page.

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