Inadequate investigation and lack of correct procedure led to unfair dismissal and breach of contract award

A teacher who told an Ofsted inspection that his school forbid poorly behaved pupils on a squash court, whilst posting on social media, was unfairly and wrongly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled.

The judge found that the investigation and disciplinary process were “deeply flawed on many grounds”. The tribunal heard that the teacher and his headteacher, had been at “loggerheads”. The claimant had spoken out about his concerns for the school at a public meeting but no action had been taken by the trustees.

A month later, while on sick leave, the claimant found out that children had been hidden in squash courts during an Ofsted inspection after receiving text messages from a colleague and parents saying some pupils known for misbehaving were removed from lessons to the courts, out of sight of the inspection team.

The tribunal heard this was the “last straw” for the teacher and he formally raised his concerns to Ofsted through its online teachers’ portal, as well as sharing what he had sent with the Department for Education (DfE), his trade union and local MP.

The judge ruled that this sharing of concerns with Ofsted classed as protected disclosures. The headteacher resigned from her post before the published Ofsted report labelled the academy as “inadequate” – the lowest of four grades.

Following this, the claimant received a Facebook alert from a parent of a child at the school who was also a journalist for a local newspaper which had published articles critical of the school. The claimant replied, commenting on the local newspaper’s Facebook page – agreeing with some of the comments and making additional comments about the previous headteacher. The posts were reported to the acting headteacher who started a disciplinary process. 

An investigation into misconduct was held during which the claimant said “the frustration of not being listened to had led him to use social media, no one was listening to concerns” so he had “no other option”. It was concluded that his comments were “disloyal” and in breach of the school’s policies.

The tribunal found that the investigation was one-sided and inadequate, despite the claimant providing “context documentation” such as a previous grievance and appeal, Ofsted’s acknowledgment emails, a letter from the County Council, submissions to the DfE and his own statement. The investigation and disciplinary hearing taken together were also unfair procedurally as it appeared that the acting head teacher had influenced the decisions of the investigating officer and disciplinary manager. 

The claimant was awarded damages of £4,002 on the claim of breaches of contract and £3,246.50 for wrongful dismissal. On the claim of unfair dismissal, he was awarded compensation of £42,827.10, comprising a basic award of £3,429 and a compensatory award of £39,398.10.

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