Bromsgrove teacher banned for 'cruelty and neglect' of children in classroom

frontage of school
-Credit: (Image: Birmingham Post and Mail)

A Bromsgrove teacher has been banned for ‘cruelty and neglect’ of vulnerable children at a special school. Rachel Kearns pushed a child off a desk, dragged them across a room, withheld lunch from pupils and even told another “it’s no wonder your mother didn’t have any other children”, a panel ruled.

The 44-year-old was working at the Worcestershire town's Rigby Hall Special School, in Rigby Lane, Aston Fields, when complaints came to light. Due to her lack of remorse and the incidents deemed so serious, Kearns was not only banned from teaching but will never be allowed to return to the classroom.

A Teaching Regulation Agency professional conduct panel found five of eight allegations proved against Kearns for allegations dating back to between October 2021 and May 2022, when she was suspended and West Mercia Police notified. The panel ruled her actions spanning child cruelty and/or neglect, controlling or coercive behaviour and intolerance for disability “ and amounted to misconduct of a serious nature” and could bring the profession into disrepute.

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Kearns, who started working at the school in September 2020, was found to have shoved a child lying on her desk off it by his legs rather than coax him off and dragging an upset pupil across the floor by his wrists. She also withheld food and snacks from children and threw a pupil's lunch in the bin as he refused to sit at the table or eat it at lunchtime.

Witnesses told the hearing that lunchtimes in Kearns’ classroom were “often the most stressful times of the day as Mrs Kearns would get increasingly frustrated with the children’s behaviour". Many children were unable to sit and eat lunch at a table or did not want to eat a ‘normal’ lunch at a ‘normal’ lunchtime”, they added.

On another occasion, the hearing was told the teacher said to a boy “it’s no wonder your mother didn’t have any other children or words to that effect". A witness said Kearns would often get frustrated with this child as he was one of the louder children in the class, often shouting at him rather than speaking. It wasn't clear if the pupil understood Kearns' comment as he is not able to speak.

David Oatley of the Teaching Regulation Agency, who made the decision to ban Kearns from teaching, said in his report: “Mrs Kearns’ conduct placed extremely vulnerable pupils, a number of whom were non-verbal and could not therefore communicate their needs, at significant risk.

“In light of the panel’s findings against Mrs Kearns, which involved pushing Pupil A; dragging and/or pulling Pupil B by their wrist or wrists; withholding food from pupils; throwing Pupil B’s lunch in the bin and saying to Pupil B “it’s no wonder why your mother didn’t have any other children”, or words to that effect, there was a strong public interest consideration in the safeguarding and wellbeing of pupils and the protection of other members of the public.

“In my judgement, the lack of evidence of insight and remorse means that there is some risk of the repetition of this behaviour and this puts at risk the future wellbeing of pupils. I have therefore given this element considerable weight in reaching my decision.

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“I am particularly mindful of the finding that the offence types of child cruelty and/or neglect and controlling or coercive behaviour were relevant in this case and the impact that such a finding has on the reputation of the profession.”

Kearns is prohibited from teaching indefinitely in any school, sixth form college, relevant youth accommodation or children’s home in England. The decision was made despite the teacher having valuable specialist skills for schools of British Sign Language, Makaton and a degree in Deaf Studies and Linguistics, as well as training in Gastronomy and Naso-Gastric tube feeding.

Kearns, who denied all the conduct charges, did not attend the hearing on April 25 and wasn’t represented. She submitted evidence that throughout her career she had an exemplary record, adding that she was considered an ‘outstanding’ teacher at the schools she has worked in.

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The panel acknowledged that the ratio of 1:9 in Kearns’ class was “at the high end when considering the age of the children and the degree of special needs they typically have”. They added that particularly at lunchtimes, the staffing levels were “not reasonable”.

Incidents were at lunchtime and the panel heard there were no clear school policies about pupils eating at school, which they said "inappropriately led to staff to interpret the school’s expectations around food in their own ways".

The school, which has more than 200 pupils, was inspected by Ofsted in February 2023 and was rated 'requires improvement'.