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'Whistleblowing on special needs teacher ruined my career but I have no regrets'

PUBLISHED: 06:30 01 November 2019 | UPDATED: 11:14 01 November 2019

Emma Simmonds, former teaching assistant at St Michael's Church of England Academy in King's Lynn. Picture: Lauren De Boise.

Emma Simmonds, former teaching assistant at St Michael's Church of England Academy in King's Lynn. Picture: Lauren De Boise.

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A teacher who was banned for life for her treatment of special needs pupils was exposed thanks to a whistleblower. But that staff member has now lost her job too. Today she speaks out for the first time.

St Michael's Church of England Academy. Photo: GoogleSt Michael's Church of England Academy. Photo: Google

Emma Simmonds used to admire her son's teacher.

She inspired her to work with special needs pupils and become a teaching assistant.

"I thought she was absolutely wonderful. She was my mentor," Mrs Simmonds said. "I used to think all schools needed someone like Karen Owen."

Years later Mrs Simmonds, 35, found herself working with Mrs Owen at the special resources base of St Michael's CoE Primary Academy in King's Lynn.

Emma Simmonds, former teaching assistant at St Michael's Church of England Academy in King's Lynn. Picture: Lauren De Boise.Emma Simmonds, former teaching assistant at St Michael's Church of England Academy in King's Lynn. Picture: Lauren De Boise.

But what happened there would end both of their careers.

Mrs Owen, 57, was banned from teaching for life by a misconduct panel in October for "inappropriate physical contact" with special needs pupils.

Mrs Simmonds, from Watlington, meanwhile, says her career is also over after whistleblowing about Mrs Owen's behaviour.

She has been off work since December last year and has now had her contract terminated by the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust (DNEAT) which runs the school.

Emma Simmonds, former teaching assistant at St Michael's Church of England Academy in King's Lynn. Picture: Lauren De Boise.Emma Simmonds, former teaching assistant at St Michael's Church of England Academy in King's Lynn. Picture: Lauren De Boise.

The mother first whistleblew to the NSPCC about Mrs Owen in December 2017.

For the last year she had kept notes of inappropriate behaviour which Mrs Owen was eventually found guilty of by the Teaching Regulation Agency.

Mrs Owen denied the allegations but the panel found she had stood on a pupil's foot while he screamed, pushed a pupil down when he tried get up, shouted and screamed at children and touched another pupil's face while he was eating.

The teacher also failed in her safeguarding duties by failing to act when a concern was raised with her about one pupil and failed to keep accurate child protection records.

The school suspended Mrs Owen in December 2017 while they investigated the allegations.

But when Mrs Simmonds returned to work in January 2018 she said she felt ostracised by staff.

"They say they want people to whistleblow but I feel I received detrimental treatment from colleagues," she said.

"I told some staff members I had made the call because I felt obligated to let them know," she said.

But she claimed one staff member called her a "grass" and she felt unsupported by management.

"They watched me handle difficult children by myself," she claimed.

In response a DNEAT spokesman said it "listens to any concerns raised by whistleblowers and takes robust action as a result. It also provides full support to anybody who raises concerns in this way."

They also said Ofsted had found teachers were well supported by management.

In December 2018, a year after first whistleblowing, Mrs Simmonds was signed off work sick.

"I couldn't put up with it," she said. "Over Christmas 2018 things got really bad. I was not very well. It had all built up.

"I feel I was treated like a little fly."

She said the school should have provided third party supervision to support her.

And she now wants the children who were affected by Mrs Owen's behaviour to get an apology from the Trust.

"I want the Diocese to admit they failed those children," she said.

Mrs Simmonds also contacted two school governors, who are senior clergymen, about the case.

She claims one did not responded and the other said they could not get involved.

"I have lost everything," Mrs Simmonds said. "I paid for all of my training, it was my life. I can not move on.

"I know in my heart what I did was right and I would do it again because it was wrong, but why is it that as a whistleblower I have lost the same as the teacher?"

She said she had applied to four jobs at schools to work with special needs pupils since but had not got anywhere.

She now hopes to start her career again and retrain in social work.

A DNEAT spokesman said: "During the Trust's investigation into the issue that a whistleblower raised, an Ofsted inspection took place at St Michael's Academy. They found safeguarding to be effective

"The Ofsted report specifically mentions the Specialist Resource Base: 'Pupils in the special resource base are safe due to the effective and vigilant oversight of the headteacher and deputy headteacher'.

"Ofsted did give additional guidance to further improve monitoring of the base and we can confirm that these points have all since been actioned."

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