Maths teacher who ‘dunked’ pupil’s head underwater three times after losing his temper when he was deliberately pushed off paddleboard at outdoor activity centre avoids classroom ban

  • Matthew de Villiers was found guilty of ‘unacceptable professional conduct’ 
  • Group of pupils tipped him off board after being challenged by an instructor
  • Ex-teacher, who was dismissed after incident in 2018, was spared a teaching ban
  • Education bosses ruled that the publicity alone would be sufficient punishment

A maths teacher who ‘dunked’ a pupil’s head underwater three times after losing his temper when he was deliberately pushed off a paddleboard has avoided a classroom ban. 

Teaching watchdogs were told that Matthew de Villiers, who was a guiding light of his school’s Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme activities, at first regarded what happened as ‘horse play’. 

A group of pupils, including the one whose head was pushed under the water three times by Mr de Villiers, approached him after being challenged by an instructor to see if they could tip him off the board.

He warned them off on the first occasion but they then returned a second time and succeeded after which Mr de Villiers ‘dunked’ the pupil at Porthpean Outdoor Education Centre in Cornwall. 

Mr de Villiers was a teacher at Penrice Academy in St Austell at the time of the incident in 2018 and admitted what the panel described as the ‘dunking incident’ during a coasteering course.

Matthew de Villiers (pictured) was a teacher at Penrice Academy in St Austell, Cornwall, at the time of the incident in 2018 and admitted what the panel described as the ‘dunking incident’

Mr de Villiers appeared before a teaching disciplinary panel and was found guilty of ‘unacceptable professional conduct’. He was spared a teaching ban – the usual penalty for teachers who go before Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) panels. 

Instead, in a decision taken on behalf of the Education Secretary, the panel considered in this case that publication of their findings would be sufficient penalty.

The panel’s findings admit it was a ‘one off incident which was over in a matter of seconds and could be perceived as horseplay’.

But the misconduct hearing heard it was being treated seriously because of ‘the number of times that Mr de Villiers dunked Pupil A’s head under the water with increasing force and determination which appeared to cause Pupil A distress’.

They considered that it amounted to ‘unacceptable professional conduct.’ However, they said he had made a valuable contribution to teaching and there was a ‘strong public interest’ in him continuing as a teacher. 

The panel also heard that the teacher had been under pressure because he was giving up so much of his free time to prepare pupils at Penrice Academy for the Duke of Edinburgh and Ten Tors challenges. 

He had taught at Penrice Academy from 2008 until October 2018 when he was dismissed following school disciplinary proceedings in the wake of the incident. 

RTA decision maker, Sarah Buxcey, said what Mr de Villiers did was ‘out of character’, not deliberate or pre-meditated and happened in the heat of the moment.

He was spared a teaching ban after education bosses ruled the publicity alone would be sufficient punishment. 

There was also a lack of official guidance on how the school party was expected to behave at the centre, it was agreed. 

Mr de Villiers had taught at Penrice Academy (pictured) from 2008 until October 2018 when he was dismissed following school disciplinary proceedings in the wake of the incident

Ms Buxcey, for the Education Secretary, said: ‘Mr de Villiers was under a lot of pressure.

‘His actions were not, therefore, pre-meditated and the panels observation was that the nature and severity of the behaviour were at the less serious end of the possible spectrum.

‘Having considered the mitigating factors that were present, the panel determined that a recommendation for a prohibition order would not be appropriate.

‘For these reasons, I have concluded that a prohibition order is not proportionate and not in the public interest for this case.’

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