COLLEAGUES of a young PE teacher who was sacked for sending four Facebook messages to sixth-year pupils have given their support as he fights to save his career.
Nicholas Torsney, 27, appeared in front of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) this week as a result of breaching the profession’s ultra-strict social media policy.
His sacking by West Lothian Council sparked unrest at his old school, where almost 50 teachers put their names to a protest document.
One of his colleagues at St Margaret’s Academy, Livingston, told a hearing of the GTCS in Edinburgh that the case was “blown out of proportion”.
All the messages were sent to sixth-year pupils, believed to be over 18, and two of them were sent after the students had completed their exams and had effectively left school.
The hearing was told the messages – sent to male and female students – related to a prom night and golfing trip.
Two of them were affectionately signed off “Xx”.
A teaching union said yesterday the case showed the need for clearer guidance on the use of social media by teachers.
Mr Torsney, from Livingston, is accused of being unfit to teach after sending Facebook messages to students in September 2012 and June 2013.
The teacher was sacked from St Margaret’s, but after appealing was reinstated and given a job at another West Lothian school. Despite that, the case is now being prosecuted by the GTCS, which could strike Mr Torsney off if the case against him is found proved.
Mr Torsney told the GTCS hearing that he believed the students had left school and therefore the ban on social media contact did not apply. He said he did not realise that GTCS rules go up to the final day of term.
“I thought they had left school the previous month after their final exam,” he said.
“I contacted the school office to ask for their home phone numbers so I could arrange for them to speak to the new classes and I was told they might not have their details because they were no longer pupils.
“They were wearing visitors badges when they came into school to see me a few days after the exams which also led me to believe they were no longer considered to be pupils.”
He added: “I am massively remorseful and completely devastated at my mistake. I no longer use any form of social media and I have taken classes on child protection to ensure that I will never come close to repeating the mistake.”
Karen Rafferty, 46, who worked alongside Mr Torsney at St Margaret’s Academy, told the hearing: “It was blown out of proportion. It dented his confidence and he was not the same when he returned.
“He was a great teacher and always maintained professional boundaries with the pupils.”
Mrs Rafferty revealed that she and 47 other teachers at St Magaret’s put forward their signatures in support of his position.
Mr Torsney, who graduated from Edinburgh University in 2009, has been with his girlfriend for eight years and the couple are expecting their first baby.
A council spokesman said: “West Lothian Council does not discuss matters relating to individual members of staff.”
The case continues.