By Simon Collins
A Hawke’s Bay kindergarten has been downgraded by the Education Review Office after staff allowed a newly trained teacher to hold children down to make them sleep.
Laura Hope Tregurtha, who was a provisionally registered teacher at Havelock North Kindergarten, was deregistered by the Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal yesterday for actions that were found to constitute physical and psychological abuse.
The Education Review Office (ERO) rated it “well placed” to promote positive learning outcomes for children in April 2015, but has downgraded it to “requires further development” in its latest report dated May 24 this year.
“There have been considerable staff changes since the beginning of 2017,” ERO said.
“Evolve placed a senior, experienced manager to oversee significant developments in the service during 2017. The service is presently considering developing this position for ongoing oversight of planned improvements.”
Tregurtha’s representative at the Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal hearing on May 22, a Ms Stone, argued that nobody told Tregurtha that she was acting inappropriately in the time she worked at the kindergarten from July 2016 to March 2017.
“Ms Stone noted that the sleep and mat time practices were used over a period of time and her employer and colleagues did not tell her at any time that they were unacceptable,” the tribunal said.
“She submitted that as a recent graduate and inexperienced teacher, the respondent was entitled to rely on her employer to point out and correct any errors in her methods.
“The respondent was not provided with appropriate mentoring and guidance by her employer, and she had no intention to hurt or harm students.”
However the tribunal rejected this argument.
“We agree that the respondent might have benefited from some mentoring and that her employer or her colleagues should have intervened. That does not excuse her behaviour,” it said.
The tribunal found that Tregurtha:
• At nap time, regularly placed children on their stomachs and held them down with their hands behind their backs to make them sleep, running her forearm up their backs so that her elbow was in between their shoulder blades, occasionally also placing her leg or foot over a child’s legs.
• At mat time, on occasions held children between her legs to make them sit, wrapping her legs around a child and putting her arms over the top of a child so the child could not move.
• At meal time, on several occasions made a child sit at the table for up to 40 minutes until he said “please”. The child had language difficulties and saying “please” was difficult for him.
• On one occasion in February 2017, told a child, who was not yet able to talk, to pick up a toy off the floor. When the child did not pick up the toy, Tregurtha pulled the child’s hand down to pick it up, causing the child to bang her chin on a shelf which Tregurtha had not seen and resulting in a cut to the inside of the child’s lip.
The kindergarten reported the incidents to Police, who issued a warning to Tregurtha for assault on a child.
Tregurtha resigned in April 2017 and was not teaching anywhere at the time of the tribunal hearing in May this year.
The tribunal found that Tregurtha’s conduct “amounts to physical abuse” and was “likely to adversely affect the wellbeing of the children”.
“Although there is no evidence of physical harm, there is evidence of distress,” it said.
The tribunal said Tregurtha’s refusal to let the child leave the table until he said “please” reflected adversely on her fitness to teach.
“We believe that most reasonable members of the public would share our dismay at the respondent’s conduct and attitude which many would describe as cruel,” it said.
It said any lack of guidance from more experienced staff did not mitigate her conduct.
“We simply do not understand how any qualified teacher would contemplate using those techniques or would consider them acceptable,” it said.
Child Forum chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander told the Herald that the case was not unique.
“Sadly, at Child Forum we have been told of other cases of teachers and centre managers holding children down and putting their legs across children they want to sleep to stop children from getting up, leaving children sitting restrained in highchairs for extended periods of time, putting children to bed who are not tired and making them lay down for an hour and a half or more,” she said.
“I advise parents to make the occasional drop-in spontaneous visit during the day to see what happens at different times. And to also look at how their child responds to different teachers and to going to the service.”
A spokesman for Evolve Education, Philip King, said Evolve conducted a complete investigation into Tregurtha’s behaviour at Little Wonders as soon as it became aware of it.
“Our main priority was ensuring the safety of all the children we care for, and that was done,” he said.
He said the person who managed the centre at the time had left the centre but was still working as a teacher at another Evolve centre.
“Another Evolve centre manager came in to look after it,” he said.
He said the concerns raised by ERO related to programme documentation and teacher evaluation and did not relate to the Disciplinary Tribunal case “or anything to do with the safety and wellbeing of the children”.