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Secret footage shows teachers trading physical threats with boy at County Durham pupil referral unit

The secret footage was filmed in April 2016 at The Woodlands. Photo: ITV News

ITV News Tyne Tees has obtained secret footage which shows teachers making physical threats towards a pupil, at a school for children excluded from mainstream education.

Durham County Council says that it has investigated and taken action over staff behaviour at The Woodlands pupil referral unit in Ferryhill.

The filming, carried out by a 14-year-old boy at the unit early in 2016, also shows a teacher swearing at the pupil, and a member of staff appearing to boast about how best to sell drugs.

The case has now been referred to the national organisation that regulates teachers' conduct.

Watch our exclusive report:

The Woodlands pupil referral unit is run by Durham County Council, for children who have been excluded or are at risk of permanent exclusion from school.

The footage was filmed in April this year, by a 14-year-old boy, whose family were concerned about how he was being treated.

Durham Police have reviewed all of the footage, and found no criminal acts, or safeguarding concerns.

A child psychiatrist in the North East, with more than a decade of experience treating young people with emotional and behavioural disorders, says the footage shows inappropriate behaviour from staff.

Question marks around staff conduct also surfaced in 2012, at the same unit - then known as Broom Cottages Pupil Referral Unit.

13 members of staff were suspended over allegations around the use of force towards pupils.

Nobody was prosecuted, but the council held its own investigation and made the following recommendations:

  • that the child protection policy... is reviewed urgently and is fit for purpose
  • urgently review the code of conduct for staff so that all are absolutely clear of the staff behaviour that is expected
  • making it clear that staff will not swear at or in front of students

After reviewing the footage filmed by the 14-year-old pupil this year, Durham County Council has told us it has taken action to reinforce the standards expected of staff.

We have extremely high standards and are clear with all staff on what is expected. We operate rigorous training programmes and robust guidance. The environment many staff work in can be extremely challenging and they can be put under great pressure but our expectation is that professional standards are maintained at all times.

If any staff fall below these standards there is a proper process to follow and where necessary action is taken, as has been the case in this instance. The police have confirmed there is no case to answer and while we can’t comment in detail on individuals, the public can be assured that after viewing the footage a number of actions were taken to re-enforce the high standards that are expected of employees.

As a council, we will continue to uphold these high standards and seek the very best for all pupils at this school and do our upmost to ensure all pupils enjoy a safe and enjoyable education. We are assured by Durham Constabulary that no safeguarding concerns were raised as a result of the tapes and we have been clear appropriate internal actions were taken.

– Caroline O’Neill – Head of education, Durham County Council
We spoke to a close relative of the 14-year-old boy and protected their identities because of his age.

The family have referred their concerns to the regulators, the National College for Teaching and Leadership, who will have to decide whether any of the teachers at The Woodlands should face a hearing for serious misconduct.

Ofsted also carried out a routine inspection of the pupil referral unit in June, and is due to publish its report on standards there in the next few weeks.