A teacher who was “overfamiliar” with female pupils at a Langley primary school, including hugging them and allowing them to touch his hair, has been banned from teaching.

Andrew Watson, now 29, joined the Marish Academy Trust in February 2019 as an unqualified teacher and sports coach – but just a month later, a management meeting was held regarding his alleged “overfamiliarity” with female pupils.

He was given safeguarding training in August that year, but fresh concerns were raised in October 2019 after an incident in which he was alone with a number of female pupils in the PE office.

A formal investigation was started in November that year, but he resigned from his role in December 2019.

A Teacher Regulation Agency (TRA) panel heard how someone saw Mr Watson “surrounded” by a number of Year 6 pupils in the playground, and saw them giving him a hug, one after another.

The witness said Mr Watson appeared to be encouraging the behaviour by “holding his arms open for a hug”. He was also then seen taking out his mobile phone in front of the pupils, some of whom were looking at the screen.

While he did not appear to be showing the pupils his phone, he was also not trying to prevent them from looking at it – a breach of the Trust’s mobile phones policy.

At the time, he was supposed to be mowing the school’s pitches, but the witness noticed he had “left the lawnmower unattended some distance away”.

Another witness recalled an incident in October 2019, when he saw a pupil holding Mr Watson’s phone while in the PE office.

The witness said when he walked in, Mr Watson asked the pupil to put his phone down.

Notes from a disciplinary hearing indicated Mr Watson could not recall either of these incidents and said he would “only high five” a pupil and would not hug them – but then also said some pupils were “huggers” and would take “flying leaps at you”, which the panel felt was contradictory.

About the incident in the PE office, he claimed his phone was on the table when one of the pupils picked it up – but he immediately grabbed it off of her.

A third witness also saw a female pupil putting hair bobbles in Mr Watson’s hair in around June 2019. That witness said Mr Watson did not appear to stop the pupil, instead leaning forward to “encourage” the child.

Mr Watson claimed the pupil came up to him and touched his head, but he said he immediately removed her hand.

A fourth witness also remembered in October 2019, how he went into the PE office during break time. The door was closed and when it was opened, he saw Mr Watson sitting in a chair with his legs on the table, surrounded by female pupils from Year 5 or Year 6.

That witness said one of the pupils was holding Mr Watson’s phone while Mr Watson was on his tablet.

The witness asked what was going on, and Mr Watson then asked the pupil to put his phone down and asked them to leave the office.

All of these allegations were considered by the TRA panel, who felt his actions amounted to misconduct “of a serious nature”, saying the teacher had displayed a “concerning pattern of behaviour from the outset” of his employment.

They said he also showed a “consistent and repeated failure to maintain appropriate professional boundaries” and were “very concerned by his conduct, which it noted only involved female pupils”.

Mr Watson was banned from teaching indefinitely, meaning he cannot teach in any school, sixth form college or children’s home in England. He is also not entitled to apply for restoration of his ability to teach.