Teachers at a Steiner School thought it “appropriate” for pupils to sit on a teacher’s lap, a tribunal has heard, as schools are accused of allowing a sexualised culture among pupils to prevail.
Inappropriate teacher-student relationships went unchallenged at Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley (RSSKL) and people felt “at ease about touch”, the hearing into the conduct of a former teacher was told.
The case follows Ofsted concerns about a failure to respond effectively to incidents of “sexualised behaviour” between children in Steiner schools.
Denis McCarthy, who taught at RSSKL, Herts, for 34 years, is accused of “sexually motivated” inappropriate behaviour with pupils.
The tribunal, which continues this week, comes as a time of deepening crisis for Steiner Schools, which base their curriculum on child creativity and rearing free-spirited individuals, with ministers threatening to cut funding from two academies, in Frome and Bristol.
Parents at one school contacted The Sunday Telegraph to say that teachers’ “inability” to address sexualised behaviour was a serious worry among families, who are considering taking legal action.
“They are still failing to take it seriously,” the parents said. “The children weren’t protected to begin with. There is a lot of playing it down.”
The professional conduct panel in Coventry heard that Mr McCarthy pushed a 10-year-old pupil against a wall and pulled her underwear down, and that on a school camping trip he was seen “going in and out of the girls’ tents”.
He would also pick pupils up by the waist, sit them on his lap and put his arms around them while they played with his hair, the panel heard. Some teachers “thought it was appropriate for girls up to the age of 14 to sit on a teacher’s knees”, the hearing was told.
Sue Peat, a trustee at the school from 2006 to 2016, said teachers felt “threatened” and “intimidated” by Mr McCarthy and were scared to raise the alarm.
Carole Connelly, an educational consultant who investigated the claims against the teacher, told the panel: “I think Mr McCarthy groomed a number of parents. He tried to establish that some of his behaviour was entirely normal. He put himself into such a position that no one would challenge him.”
Mr McCarthy denied that he pushed a pupil against a wall and pulled her underwear down, and said his physical contact with pupils was not sexually motivated. “Many of the children used to come and sit on my lap – I never felt there was anything wrong about that,” he said. “I never felt it was a sexual thing and still don’t. At the school, people felt quite at ease about touch.”
He was sacked for gross misconduct in 2017 and the school has since been ordered to close.
The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, the schools’ umbrella body, said: “When dealing with sexualised behaviour between pupils, SWSF encourages all schools to respond to children within a structured framework, ensuring their response is appropriate and consistent.”