The Claimant had been a teacher since 2012 and worked for the Respondent since 1 September 2016 at Pleckgate High School. His duties included teaching maths to 11 to 16-year-olds, and specifically to class 9Q4, amongst others. This was a low ability class and many of the pupils within it had behavioural issues. The Claimant loved his job and his appraisals were consistently good, his management skills were praised, and his pupils made good progress. His teaching style was to use light-hearted humour, including jokes in his lessons. The Claimant had a clean disciplinary record.
On 10 January 2020 the Claimant was teaching a class. Four pupils came in late and lied about their reasons for being late. One of the pupils was disruptive and was removed from the class. Separately, another pupil was sleeping and not engaging with the lesson. The Claimant made a comment which resulted in this pupil getting into a cupboard at the back of the class and exiting it a short time after.
After the lesson these pupils made a complaint to the Headmaster that the Claimant had forced the pupil into the cupboard. He took statements from the three pupils who had come to him. These statements contained a number of inconsistencies.
The Claimant was approached by the Deputy Head and was asked what had happened. He explained the pupil had gone into the cupboard in response to a joke he had made and apologised for making it. The Claimant was asked to provide a statement. He was told he would be able to return to his class and continue teaching. However, he then met with the Headteacher and was suspended on full pay pending investigation.
In the course of the investigation, 13 of the 17 pupils who were present were interviewed and there were various inconsistencies. At the investigation meeting the Claimant pointed out the possibility of the pupils colluding.
He also expressed concern that not all the pupils were interviewed and pupils’ behaviour records were not obtained. These were crucial as they contained information of how challenging their behaviour was and revealed information about past teacher abuse and dishonesty.
The final outcome letter upheld the allegations and the Claimant was dismissed for gross misconduct with immediate effect. His appeal was rejected.
The Employment Tribunal concluded that there were “significant flaws with the investigation” which led to “imbalanced or baseless conclusions”. The behaviour records were not obtained, the person who led the disciplinary hearing was not the disciplinary officer, the CCTV footage from the corridor was not obtained, some pupils were not interviewed, and little weight was given to the statements which said that nothing concerning had happened during the lesson, amongst other things.
The Tribunal concluded the dismissal was based on a genuine belief that misconduct had occurred. However, this was not based on reasonable grounds following reasonable investigation and was not within the band of reasonable responses. It remarked that for “a well thought of teacher dismissal was extremely harsh”. Therefore, the Claimant’s wrongful and unfair dismissal claims were successful.
This case emphasises the need for thorough investigations, especially when the allegations and potential consequences are so serious. All the necessary evidence must be gathered and presented for the process to be fair.
If you have any questions on any of the issues mentioned in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.