Pupils were crying and had red marks on their faces after a teacher placed sellotape on their mouths, it was alleged at the country's first public teacher Fitness to Practise inquiry.

The teacher at the centre of the allegations has not been identified and was not present at the hearing, which concluded this afternoon. She disputes the allegations.

It was alleged that in March of 2012 the teacher, who had begun working as a substitute teacher in the school a few days previously, told five fifth class girls in a Maths class to tape their mouths.

One student refused to do so and it was alleged the teacher taped the mouth of that child and one other herself.

There were six boys and five girls in the class. Only the girls had their mouths taped.

Pupils, who are now 16 and 17 years old, told the inquiry that children in the class were messing and talking and that the teacher held up a roll of sellotape and threatened to tape their mouths if they did not "whisht".

When talking continued, she told the girls to tape their mouths and taped the mouth of one girl herself, it is alleged.

The principal of the school at the centre of these allegations told the inquiry, when she heard something had happened, she spoke to the five girls in question.

She said some were crying and they had red marks on their face.

She said one girl was "very very upset".

This child told her she had refused to put tape over her mouth and so the teacher had done it instead.

When the principal confronted the teacher, she said the teacher did not deny that she had taped the children's mouths.

She said that to the best of her memory, the teacher had said something like "I was only messing", and that she did not mean anything by it.

The hearing took place at Teaching Council headquarters in Maynooth.

In a statement, the teacher told the Teaching Council that she "categorically" did not place sellotape on the mouth of any child.

She said that the children had been talking, and talking about sellotape, and that she had told them to "whisht".

She stated that as the class ended she noticed that some of them had placed sellotape on their mouths.

She said she told the children to take off the tape quickly so that it would not hurt.

In emails sent in September of this year, she told the Teaching Council that there was "no way" that she could proceed with a public oral hearing.

She argued that she was under significant stress and that her health had been compromised.

The teacher subsequently cut off all contact with the Teaching Council. She deleted her contact email and phone number from the Teaching Council contacts system.

When solicitors for the council attempted to phone her after that, they were initially told that they had the wrong number. Subsequent phone calls were not answered.

In later correspondence, the teacher requested "the immediate cessation of any proceedings".

The teacher wrote to the council telling them that she did not wish to be contacted by email or by phone as she believed this was "highly compromising and inappropriate".

The inquiry heard that immediately after this it became impossible to make contact with the teacher by registered post because no one answered at her home address.

An attempt last week to serve a summons on the teacher, requiring her to attend the hearing, failed when no one answered the door.

The summons server was told by neighbours that the teacher had moved to another county to her mother's home.

The children allege that they were left for between 15 to 40 minutes with their mouths taped before being directed to remove the tape as the class ended.

The children say they were directed to throw the tape in the bin, but one girl told the inquiry that she took the tape with her.

It was a question from a boy in another class that alerted other pupils and the principal to the incident, it is alleged.

One of the girls told the inquiry that at first she thought the threat to place sellotape on the girls' mouths was a joke, but she says then she became upset and scared. 

The girl, who is now 17, says the girls wrote notes to each other in the class and agreed a plan - that one would ask to go to the toilet but would in fact go to the school principal to alert her to what was going on.

However, when one of the girls asked could she go to the toilet, removing the tape temporarily to do so, it is alleged that the teacher said no, and that the teacher then went to the door to check to see that it was closed. 

The girls told the inquiry that the teacher had asked the boys in the class whether they thought she should remove the tape from the girls’ mouths or not.

The girls' memory of what the boys said differs. One girl thinks the boys said 'no'. Another girls thinks the boys did not know what to say.

One of the girls told the inquiry that all the girls and the boys had been talking and laughing in the class.

All of the girls who gave evidence this morning disputed the teacher's account of events.

One said she had a rash that evening and that her lips were itchy. She said the teacher had been shouting aggressively in the classroom.


Will new fitness to practise process for teachers work?

Although the teacher and any witnesses will not be identified, the hearing is taking place in public.

The school where the incidents are alleged to have taken place will also not be identified.

The three members of the disciplinary panel hearing the case are Denis Magner and Eamonn Shaughnessy, who are both teachers, and Áine Lynch who is CEO of the National Parents' Council Primary.

All three are members of the Teaching Council.

The case is taking place under new teacher fitness to practise legislation. The long-awaited legislation underpinning the process commenced in July of last year.

Since then, the Teaching Council has received around 50 complaints, half of which have been deemed serious enough to warrant further investigation.

Grounds for complaint include misconduct, poor performance and medical unfitness. Only the most serious cases will proceed to a full hearing.

Hearings will be similar to those heard against doctors under the Medical Council. In most cases children are likely to be key witnesses.

If findings are made against a teacher, sanctions include temporary suspension or the permanent loss of the right to teach in a publicly funded school.