Teacher banned for wrestling sessions loses bid to return to classroom

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An “inspirational” maths teacher who was banned from the profession for holding wrestling sessions has lost a High Court bid to return to the classroom.

Azam Zia, who worked at Icknield High School, Luton, failed to tell the school authorities and did not inform parents about the off-site sessions.

The 37-year-old arranged the classes by contacting pupils, who paid between £15 and £20 to attend, on the WhatsApp messaging service.

He admitted unacceptable professional conduct and conduct which may bring teaching into disrepute at a professional conduct panel of the National Council for Teaching and Leadership in May last year.

As a result the Department for Education banned him from teaching, but said he could apply to be reinstated after two years.

Mr Zia challenged his ban at the High Court in London, arguing the panel should have postponed his hearing so he could gather testimonials from pupils and parents.

But, dismissing his case, Mrs Justice Lambert said the ban was justified by the panel’s conclusion there was a “serious failure to observe proper professional standards”.

In her ruling on Friday, she added: “Mr Zia’s conduct exposed the students at the Saturday sessions to a clear risk of personal injury, possibly serious personal injury.

“His interaction with the students via WhatsApp justified the panel’s conclusion that Mr Zia did not have a clear idea of appropriate teacher student boundaries.”

The court previously heard Mr Zia held the wrestling sessions on Saturdays at the Tokko Youth Centre in Luton between August and November 2015.

The sessions were only attended by Muslim boys and on one occasion the teacher encouraged two boys to settle a grievance by wrestling each other.

Neither Mr Zia nor a second adult involved were trained to instruct wrestling and they were not insured in case a student was injured during the sessions.

The sessions came to the school’s attention after a female pupil reported that Mr Zia was in contact with a group of students on WhatsApp.

A subsequent investigation concluded some pupils’ admiration of the teacher “came close to hero worship”.

Mr Zia provided the court with statements from former students, which described him as an “inspirational teacher who had a profound and positive effect” on their development.

But, rejecting his appeal, Mrs Justice Lambert ruled the evidence would not have affected the outcome of his disciplinary proceedings.

She added: “In the circumstances, I do not conclude that the decision to impose a prohibition order with a two-year review was wrong.”

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