Sheffield teacher who sent 'inappropriate' texts to former student is spared ban

Aston Academy, where Anton Thomas-Epsley taught before resigning in December 2015 (Google)
Aston Academy, where Anton Thomas-Epsley taught before resigning in December 2015 (Google)
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A former Sheffield teacher who sent 'inappropriate' texts to an ex-student has been spared a ban due to 'significant mitigating factors'.

Anton Thomas-Epsley, who taught at Aston Academy in Swallownest, admitted he had been 'over-friendly' with the 15-year-old after sending her messages with the words 'gorgeous' and 'cute'.

But he insisted the nature of those messages had been 'jokey', and a hearing found allegations that his behaviour was sexually motivated to be unproven.

The student in question was a pupil at Swinton Community School - now Swinton Academy, in Mexborough - where Mr Thomas-Epsley had worked as a PE teacher from September 2013 to August the following year, before he joined Aston Academy in September 2014.

But the allegations concerned his role as head coach of the South Yorkshire Thunder Handball Club, which he formed in summer 2014.

Mr Thomas-Epsley admitted sending the teenager messages of an 'inappropriate' nature, asking her to send images of parts of her body (after she was bruised in training) and sending photos of her accompanied by 'inappropriate' comments.

However, he told the hearing that the use of the words 'gorgeous' and 'cute' had been clearly meant as a joke because they referred to particularly unflattering photos, a claim which was backed up by the girl.


Mr Thomas-Epsley also admitted behaving 'inappropriately' during a team trip to Malta in 2015, when he sat next to the girl on a plane despite her mother asking that she sit elsewhere, held team meetings in his hotel room and spent time alone with the former pupil in his room.

He argued, however, that meetings had taken place in his room because it was cooler than the bar area, and he said the girl did not want to sit next to the student his mother had asked her to so took the seat originally assigned to her.

A professional conduct panel of the National College for Teaching and Leadership ruled that the findings of misconduct were 'serious' and could bring the profession into disrepute.

But members said there were 'significant mitigating factors' and his behaviour did not amount to unacceptable professional conduct.

They declared the publication of the findings was 'sufficient to send an appropriate message' to the teacher about acceptable standards of behaviour and said there was no need to ban him - a decision which was upheld by the education secretary Justine Greening.

The panel also accepted that the teacher recognised his conduct towards players in the handball club had been 'over-friendly' and he would never have behaved in a similar way in his teaching role.

Mr Thomas-Epsley resigned from Aston Academy in December 2015, after the school began a disciplinary investigation when the allegations against him came to light.