Christopher Mead, in last week’s episode of Waterloo Road was definitely not a sex offender, despite one pupil’s threats to brand him as such in a blackmail attempt and despite another’s misinterpretation of his behaviour arising from her own damaging formative experiences. Over the last few weeks, away from TV comprehensive school dramas there have been a number of news reports of court cases involving teachers convicted for grooming and or sexual activity with children. The teachers in these reports are no Christopher Meads, who, unwittingly attract false allegations as they naively set off to rescue pupils from sleazy back street lap dancing clubs. In courts of law they have been demonstrated to be sexual abusers from whom children need protecting.
Back in September there was the case of Matthew Knott, who not unlike Waterloo Road’s Christopher Mead was a Science Teacher from Greater Manchester. He was jailed for grooming a 13 year old girl for sex (not one of his pupils). He did this by setting up a false identity, ‘Jessica’ in order to chat with his victim online and persuade her to meet him. Using his own identity he arranged to meet the girl, and picked her up in his car, drove her to his flat and ‘told her’ to have sex with him.
Move forward to November and there is the case of Kenneth Anbany who taught in a school in Exeter. After his arrest he claimed he was “bit over familiar at times”. This would appear to be a gross understatement, as this ‘over familiarity’ involved driving one of his 15 year old pupils to a wood and asking her to have sex with him. During the investigation other pupils described how Anbany would behave in a sexual way towards them. He admitted charges of sexual activity and causing or inciting a child to have sex.
At the end of November newspapers reported on the case of a female offender, Madeleine Martin from Cheshire, who was sentenced to prison for 32 months. The Internet is involved in this case too, as she and her 15 victim, a boy at her school began communicating via facebook before the relationship became sexual. She was, as the Judge said at a “low ebb”, however the boundaries of acceptable behaviour became completely ‘blurred’ as she paid for him to get a tattoo, and had sex with the boy. Both are, of course, illegal.
Earlier this month the case of John Cope was reported in national newspapers. An IT supply teacher at a private school in Brighton, he communicated, using a mobile phone with his female pupil, sending her sexually explicit texts. In his defence he claimed he was trying to help his pupil through a difficult time, though one wonders how he thought sending texts about flavoured condoms and oral sex was going to achieve this. He was found guilty of sexual grooming.
This select sample should not be used to suggest that in every school there lies a sexually predatory teacher intent on grooming his or her pupils. The media, to varying degrees sets the agenda as to what news we get to read about. The behaviours described in these news reports are clearly cases where the boundaries were not just blurred but completely transgressed by teachers who were in positions of authority, and in most cases had a duty of care over the young people they taught. They behaved in ways which they must have known were inappropriate and illegal.
Mead’s efforts to engage students by giving tutorials, in contrast, appears to be a manifestation of ‘personalised learning’ which is highly valued in contemporary educational policy discourses. Of course he needs to ensure this personalised learning is properly sanctioned and overseen by the school.
As for his attempts to rescue Vicki MacDonald from a Lap Dancing Club; surely that appears to be positively heroic?