Crossing professional boundaries

Posted on November 16th, 2023

The case of Mr Adams v Better Futures Multi-Academy Trust highlights the importance of having the necessary safeguarding procedures in place. Mr Adams was employed as a teacher and promoted to course leader for Ethics and Philosophy in 2018. In March 2020, a colleague raised concern that Mr Adams was crossing professional boundaries after it was found that a female student was spending time in his classroom, with other students, every lunchtime. A discussion took place with Mr Adams on an informal basis. He recognised the need to change his behaviour to avoid being perceived as socialising with students.

College not aware of the arrangements

The female pupil left the college in summer 2020. Shortly afterwards she contacted Mr Adams to ask him for some guidance on her transition to university. Mr Adams agreed to help and would often visit the pupil at home. At that time the pupil lived with her boyfriend, who was still at the college, and his mother. Ground rules were agreed with the boyfriend’s mother due to the potential safeguarding issues. Mr Adams did not make the college aware of the arrangements, or that he would be visiting the home of a current student.

College not informed of ‘sleep over’

During one of the visits to the house, the mother became ill and Mr Adams drove her and the pupil to hospital. He returned to the home with the pupil and waited several hours before going back to the hospital to pick the mother up. He inadvertently fell asleep on the sofa and left the following morning. The college was not informed of the events.

Suspended and then dismissed

In April 2022, the college received an anonymous complaint by email reporting a breach by Mr Adams of professional conduct. Mr Adams was suspended pending an investigation. He was later invited to a disciplinary hearing and dismissed. Mr Adams’s appeal was not upheld.

Dismissal fair

Mr Adams issued a claim for unfair and wrongful dismissal. The employment tribunal (ET) found that Mr Adams held a position of trust and responsibility in relation to young people. He was familiar with his safeguarding responsibilities and with the school’s safeguarding policies. He had also been previously reminded of the importance of maintaining professional boundaries. It was reasonable therefore for the college to find Mr Adams had breached the college policies by visiting the house and not notifying the college of such arrangements. The ET found that dismissal was reasonable in the circumstances and therefore fair.

Breached policy by failing to notify

The above case highlights the importance of having the necessary safeguarding procedures in place and having a clear policy that provides details on the reporting methods where pupils may be at risk. The teacher in this case had failed to notify the college of his contact with the pupil which put himself and the pupil inadvertently at risk. This was despite the fact he was genuinely trying to assist her with personal issues. Ultimately, he had breached policy by failing to notify the college and this subsequently resulted in his dismissal being fair.

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