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The sex scandal that took the shine off Sparklebox

Features | Published in TES Newspaper on 23 April, 2010 | By: Meabh Ritchie

For thousands of teachers, the primary resources website was a godsend - it saved them time and made their jobs easier. But then its creator, Samuel Kinge, was convicted of child pornography offences

In November last year, “Kiki”, a primary teacher in London, started a discussion topic on the TES online forum. “Has anyone noticed that Sparklebox has been blocked again by various LAs (local authorities)?” she asked. “They are claiming it is for safeguarding reasons. It is an amazing website which cuts my resource-making time by 50 per cent. Does anyone know what the real reasons behind the block are?”

Sparklebox is a website with thousands of free primary school teaching resources available for download. As well as the wealth of material available, what made it so appealing for teachers was that resources were categorised by subject as well as by type and could be previewed before they were downloaded and printed out.

As one of the biggest repositories of online resources - relied upon by thousands of teachers for lesson planning - the speed with which Sparklebox had been placed out of bounds caused frustration and bemusement.

While many teachers were left in the dark, those who had an inkling about what was going on could not quite believe what they were hearing. “We have been given a reason that I quite frankly find very hard to take on board and would like to try and find out if it is true or not,” wrote a teacher on the TES forum.

Eventually, the reason for the embargo became clear. On January 8 this year, Samuel Kinge, the creator and editor of Sparklebox - and a former teacher - was convicted at Worcester Crown Court of downloading 424 indecent and fake photographs of children. He was sentenced to a year in prison. The man behind some of the most widely used primary school resources was a paedophile.

In the days following Kinge’s conviction, the explanation for local authorities’ ban of the site at last became public. The effects rippled through schools across the UK. While many learning grids subsequently lifted the ban (there is no evidence to suggest that Kinge involved Sparklebox in any of his offences) many teachers felt it would be immoral to use the site because of its association with a sex offender. Although Sparklebox was a one-man band, it continues to be available online while he is in prison.

“Everyone was completely taken aback,” says Zena Fish, a Year 3 teacher in Wandsworth, south London. “Our headteacher told us in the morning meeting. People couldn’t believe it. I had a discussion with my mum as well. She’s a high-level TA and she was really shocked. Everyone was saying: ‘Have you heard?’”

This was the second time Kinge had been convicted for child pornography. In 2005, he was jailed for nine months for making and owning indecent and explicit images of children. Then 23, he had been working as a reception teacher at a primary school in Warwickshire.

He was also banned from using the internet, although this was lifted on appeal after his lawyers said it would prevent him from working after his release. But he was also ordered to register as a sex offender and banned from working with children indefinitely.

On his release, Kinge changed his first name by deed poll from Daniel to Samuel and set about building what would turn into one of the most successful education websites in the UK.

At first, everything seemed to be going smoothly. But it was a teacher who first made the link between sex offender Daniel Kinge and Sparklebox creator Samuel Kinge. Early in 2009, this teacher voiced their concerns on an online education forum.

Alan Earl, a police intelligence agent who was working as a harm reduction officer with the South West Grid for Learning at the time, saw the allegations and decided to investigate. “I did a bit of digging and found out that he was in fact a sex offender,” says PC Earl.

“I then had a further look at the site and realised there was a bit of social networking there, with a blog.”

This was crucial. The potential for children to get in touch with Kinge via his website meant he was breaking the prohibition on working with children imposed as part of his sentence in 2005.

As a result, police blocked the site early in 2009. In response, Kinge removed the blog and put out a statement denying what he called false rumours and malicious gossip. Ironically, a page of the website explains how Sparklebox ensures a “safe and risk-free browsing experience” by screening all advertisements to ensure they are “family-safe”.

The police concluded the site did not pose a risk. “The threat had been removed when he took off the social networking facilities,” says PC Earl. “We were managing the offender.”

But a few months later, Devon and Cornwall police found evidence to suggest that Kinge might be involved with child pornography once more. According to PC Earl, Kinge would regularly erase most of the images he had made and downloaded. But police eventually found 424 indecent images of children on his computer and in October last year he was arrested.

At this point, most of the learning grids in England blocked access to Sparklebox. But until Kinge had come to trial they were unable to say why. Many teachers were enraged about being denied access and accused local councils of taking an authoritarian stance.

Numerous theories bounced around the internet, many expressing dismay at not being treated like responsible professionals, capable of handling sensitive information. “Or is it a secret governmental conspiracy to force teachers to be creative and make their own resources? Who knows,” wrote one poster on the TES forum. However, the risk of prejudicing the court case prevented the reasons for blocking the site from being made public, according to PC Earl.

Police handling the investigation were torn as to how much information they could pass on. “The last thing we wanted was to stop teachers from accessing such a good learning resource. We were between a rock and a hard place,” says PC Earl. “My heart went out to the teachers. And the police really did feel for them. It’s not like they weren’t taking it seriously. But this is about child safety. That’s the most important thing - the kids come first.”

There is no definitive evidence that Sparklebox was ever part of Kinge’s child porn network. Teachers had been able to communicate with Kinge through the site’s blog, before it was taken down, and some had uploaded photographs of their pupils.

But was Kinge using any photos directly from the site? “We don’t know and we can’t prove it,” says PC Earl, who regrets that the police were unable to find out either way. Sparklebox was primarily for teaching resources, “but teachers were posting pictures of themselves and their children online,” he says.

In Wandsworth, Ms Fish’s classroom still bears the stamp of Sparklebox. Splat words - vocabulary that her pupils should know - are pinned to the walls as well as multi-coloured “word banks”. Displays for days of the week and eye-catching “sight” words are placed around the classroom. Most of them bear the Sparklebox tag. “They’re very visual and really colourful,” says Ms Fish. “(The site) would save me from making my own.”

Primary school teachers are notoriously pressed for time. Anything that makes their job easier is welcomed with open arms, and Sparklebox in particular was embraced. For the first six months of 2009, it was the 50th most accessed site on the South West Learning Grid, with 27 million hits. The website filled a big gap in the market for early years resources in particular. No other site had such a range of free materials that could be ready for use in a matter of seconds.

News of Kinge’s conviction has put many teachers in a quandary. Although the site is still online, Ms Fish has not used it since. She does not want to support it any further, although she has not removed Sparklebox material from her classroom walls. “Is that wrong?” she asks. “I don’t think I’d throw them out but I’d probably cut off the Sparklebox (logo).

“I don’t want to support someone like that. I’m really shocked that someone who created such good resources could do something like that.”

The teaching community has now overwhelmingly rejected the website, if the numerous comments and forum posts about the subject on the TES site are anything to go by. Many want to dissociate themselves from it completely.

“I don’t feel comfortable with the association between a sex offender and the resources used to support children’s education,” says Tricia Oxlade, a Year 3 teacher in south-east London.

“My immediate reaction was to remove everything from my room. Luckily, I only had a few well-chosen ones.”

Others feel that the resources themselves are not to blame and there is no point in throwing out perfectly good teaching material. At Ms Oxlade’s school, the headteacher is still using certificates from the site.

“I have brought this up with some members of staff but no one else feels the same way as me about it,” she says.

“I am quite shocked at the double standards, especially when safeguarding is supposed to be a high priority. It seems that quality resources and the time taken to seek out, prepare and replace them is of a greater concern. I wish the headteacher, the senior management or the borough had taken a stronger stance on this issue. I feel loathing for the Sparklebox brand and, if I could, I would remove them from other classes, too.”

While the conspiracy theories about why Sparklebox was initially banned may have been far fetched, it exposed how dependent teachers were on one site. “I am tired of walking into every classroom and it all looking more or less the same,” wrote one teacher on the TES forums, who believes some kind of control over the site’s usage was necessary, regardless of the recent news of its creator.

“There are more learning boards (made by Sparklebox) than there are children’s work in many classes. I know it’s a hard, all-consuming job but children deserve to be taught in a stimulating environment - and that is not wall-to-wall Sparklebox.”

After the initial shock and anger, this energy is now being poured into seeking out alternative websites and resources to help primary teachers with their lessons.

Ms Oxlade has bookmarked a series of new sites and put a list of alternatives on the staff noticeboard. Teachers have also been sharing their own materials and lesson plans online by uploading them to websites, meaning that they can receive feedback about what’s working or tips on how resources could be improved.

There is no doubt of the extent to which Kinge’s actions have affected primary schools. Few teachers will now be able to think of Sparklebox without associating the site with a sex offender. But if the end result is greater diversity of resources, shared information between teachers and resources catered specifically for individual classes, one could argue that it is a good thing - for primary teachers and pupils.


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Comment (27)

  • Very much echoes my own thoughts.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    18:41
    23 April, 2010

    onestop

  • Excellent post! I hope this clears things up for a lot of people as I know some still questioned the authenticity of the aligations. I used to use Sparklebox on a daily basis but I point blank refuse to even open the site up any more hence why I made the descision to launch my own teaching resource site.

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    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    23:09
    23 April, 2010

    Tpet.co.uk

  • Lewis Carroll was another author of children books who was implicated in the production of indecent photographs of children. Bearing that in mind, and for the same reason, should not the reading of his works be discouraged and alternative publications promoted?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    1:54
    24 April, 2010

    PeterDay

  • I must be living in the dark ages because this is the first I have heard of this. sparklebox is a great resource...what to do?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    4:43
    24 April, 2010

    Maggie Taylor

  • @ Peter Day, the difference is Lewis Carroll is dead. He no longer profits from people still reading his works however Mr Samuel still is. People using his site is still putting £1000's pounds worth of profit via advertising into his back pocket

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    12:40
    24 April, 2010

    Tpet.co.uk

  • i thought the site had now been taken off the offender and he was banned from it........ does this mean we can no longer use the materials...... most children wont know of the link to the man and should they be deprived of the resource....even if the crime is evil? I still see large amounts of sparkle box up in primary schools.....or will cleansing the name get rid of the offense?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    14:38
    24 April, 2010

    oldsomeman

  • I don't think teachers should be posting photgraphs of themselves or their pupils online to any website as it is stated in the above satement about Sparklebox. I have used it in the past and did notice some of the clasroom postings had pictures of children in some teachers classes. As a parent I would have protested strongly if my child were being posted anywhere on the interent. I think teachers and heads should invest in safeguarding training pronto if they haven't already!!!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    15:53
    24 April, 2010

    Kingsand

  • Well, that clears up a lot. Sparklebox is also heavily used in Scotland! I used it a fair bit myself then as I visited other schools for various reasons, that was all I could see! It caused me to go looking further afield and although I found some quite good sites, none match Sparklebox. Have to say, I have been using them and deleting the name! Boss has said to us that if we had previously downloaded gear before all this, then using was fine by her because she recognised it was a good resource.
    I cannot believe there are teachers daft enough to post themselves and/or their children on the internet! How dare they! We have a policy not to post outside of our network and we also have parental forms allowing children's photos to be posted - or not as the parents wish. Those photos are for anyone to look at - and you just don't know who will look. I never looked at the blog. I was only ever interested in the resources.
    I do agree that to rely on one resource is not good!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    16:32
    24 April, 2010

    blondiesilver

  • The above post was very informative. The site was cleared from our computers at school. Not much information given. I never looked at the blog i only ever used the resources. Perhaps everyone sharing their resources would be more beneficial.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    22:11
    24 April, 2010

    matilda blueberry

  • I have got to say that had Sparkle box resources not existed, the letters and Sounds programme would have been a lot more laborious to implement. Resources for new initiatives have never been provided and schools do not have the money for them.
    As we have to think very carefully about the cost of photocopying in our school, I chose resources very carefully. We have not thrown them away!
    I never used the blog and don't recall seeing any photos of children on the site. However, I no longer use the site as I don't want him to profit.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    12:45
    25 April, 2010

    sezliz

  • Can people add other sites that they use as we have been asked to remove all of our resources and replace them as soon as possible. I do not use the site anymore but am at a loss as where to get resources from as we do not have the budget to buy in similar products.

    The only sites that I have used so far are...

    www.communcation4all.co.uk for SEN
    and the TES site

    thank you

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    16:31
    25 April, 2010

    annieroe

  • Hi annie, I know exactly how you feel. I found this website: www.twinkl.co.uk and think its great! It's a new site but new resources are added regularly which is exciting! Hope this helps.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    17:06
    25 April, 2010

    scorker

  • All the Sparklebox resources have the Sparklebox logo on them (bearing in mind that cutting them of is breech of copyright) so keeping the resources will help to promote the site, which means he can profit from teachers continuing to display resources even though they no longer use the site themselves.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    17:40
    25 April, 2010

    Franklyn2

  • I am developing my own teaching site but I teach full time so don't have as many items as Sparklebox. I felt sick when I heard the news about Sparklebox as like many teachers, I had some items in my classroom alongside my own displays and resources. I have taken these down for two reasons. Firstly, I noticed several colleagues using Sparklebox which meant that some classrooms looked the same and secondly I didn't want to support this man in any way. A paedophile does not deserve a second (or third) chance in my opinion.

    And as for teachers posting photographs of children online, that is so foolish and they must not be child protection trained.

    My site - not as good as Sparklebox but at least it's honest! http://www.teachingtimesavers.co.uk/

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    17:42
    25 April, 2010

    teachingtimesavers08

  • Alternatives to Sparklebox

    Not all free resources but worth a look!

    http://www.yourresources.co.uk/
    http://www.schoolslinks.co.uk/
    http://www.trinityeducational.co.uk/
    http://mrspancake.com/index.php/doodads/show_one_category/category/classroom_helpers/
    http://www.instantdisplay.co.uk/
    http://www.communication4all.co.uk/HomePage.htm
    http://www.imaginativeteacher.com/Free_Downloads.html
    http://www.qualityprimaryresources.co.uk/epages/62030978.sf




    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    17:44
    25 April, 2010

    Franklyn2

  • The sites I know of have been mentioned already. My site is for teachers to share their resources and plans so hopefully encourages some creativity.
    There are also links on the site to other great resources on the web.

    http://www.primaryschoolteaching.co.uk/

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    23:50
    25 April, 2010

    l.pitkethly

  • Interesting read.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    14:50
    26 April, 2010

    pduffy79

  • Sezliz a good site for letters and sounds resources is http://www.letters-and-sounds.com/ hope this helps

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    20:01
    26 April, 2010

    amy27

  • http://mrspancake.com/ is also good

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    21:59
    26 April, 2010

    johnson18

  • Thanks for this information.
    http://www.wirlit.com.au is a whiteboard resource site based on themes and inquiry learning. We have included Sparklebox links for print resourcesup until now. We will no longer add be adding these as a matter of principle

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    6:57
    28 April, 2010

    wirlit

  • Although the creater of sparklebox has done a disgraceful thing, i still, and will continue to use sparklebox. It is a fantastic website that offers invaluable resources that are first of all free (which is very rare) and more importantly time saving.

    If it wasn't for sparklebox, I would have to make them all myself, and I'm not there isn't a teacher in the world who will disagree with me when I say we already have far too much on our plates and are extremely overworked, without the added burdon of making a pretty numberline.

    In this instance, I'm sorry to say that morals and ethics come second place to my own wellbeing.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    19:20
    17 September, 2010

    jmulvany

  • Another alternative I've used and loved is,

    www.thatresourcesite.com

    They are more Religous based resources. But they are great! Its run by a Homeschooling mom and all free as well.
    Their Blog keeps up to date with new aditions she adds.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    6:35
    29 September, 2010

    miss_margie

  • I've noticed new resources have been added today. Anybody have any information on who is running the site now?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    13:34
    15 November, 2010

    kaila810

  • Many resource sites have already dropped Sparklebox

    Here is another educational resource site with an additional couple of direct resource pages its been around for over 16 years yet doesn't seem to get the notoriety it deserves:

    http://www.karscot.com/inet.html
    http://www.karscot.com/kidlinks.html

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    21:24
    1 January, 2013

    nitrid

  • Http://www.classroomsecrets.com is a great site and has lots if differentiated resources.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    1:31
    14 May, 2014

    TeacherWill2014

  • When you visit the website and click onto the resources then registers in the form of visitors to the website, by having a lot of visitors advertisers pay to advertise their, whilst Sparklebox doesn't harm children the owner then takes the money donates it to schools and other community projects abroad that work with poor children OUT the goodness of his heart for their wealth fare no doubt. So I will create my own resources at a personal cost to me or use other sites.

    https://vimeo.com/9017250


    Other good sites: some free:

    www.communication4all.co.uk

    www.tpet.co.uk

    www.earlylearninghq.org.uk/

    mrspancake.com/

    primarytreasurechest.com/

    www.mrprintables.com/free-preschool-printables.html

    www.pencilstreet.org/

    Primary Plan,

    Chalk Face

    twinkl

    Also try TES, Primary Resources & Google

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    18:01
    22 June, 2014

    yram relli

  • The site may well be safe, and the resources are excellent.

    This is an ethical question - "Should school funds be used to fund a paedophile?"

    My view is quite simply "No." I think that my parents would be outraged if I allowed my school to pay this man-even if his association with the product is as arms-length as it seems to be. He still benefits.

    I know of schools where parents have discovered the history of the owner of Sparklebox and it has caused considerable ill-feeling, not the least, resulting in a lack of confidence in the judgment of the head teacher.

    There are other products available without this stain on their character.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    13:39
    9 October, 2014

    PrivatePilot

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