Teacher unfairly dismissed

A maths teacher was unfairly and wrongfully dismissed after a pupil alleged that he was forced into a cupboard as a punishment, a tribunal has ruled.

The employment tribunal ruled that a teacher with 10 years’ service and a clean record was not at fault because the school did not consider all of the evidence when they conducted an investigation and disciplinary.  It found that the student had 364 entries on his behaviour record for abusing staff and pupils and disrupting classes and had previously also told another teacher that he would “make something up about her” after she told him off for bad behaviour.

The tribunal ruled that for a well-thought of teacher of good character with a good disciplinary record, dismissal was an “extremely harsh sanction” and not within the band of reasonable responses. 

During a class, the teacher noticed that the pupil was not engaged and, using his normal style of class management, asked him to stand at the back of the classroom by the cupboard. He subsequently “joked” that the pupil should get in the cupboard, which he did for a “short time”.

The pupil subsequently complained that he had been “forced” into the cupboard. An investigation ensued and the teacher was asked to make a statement. He was not told of the allegations against him, nor was he told how seriously the school was treating it, so he made a “quick, handwritten statement” because he was trying to complete it before his first lesson. He was immediately suspended on full pay.

The same day, 13 pupils out of the 17 who were in the class when the incident occurred, gave statements about the lesson to deputy head which the tribunal noted were “inconsistent”.

At his investigatory interview the teacher emphasised that the situation had been treated as a joke at the time, stating that the pupil was laughing and that he had remarked something like “it’s actually quite cosy in there” as he left the cupboard.

The investigation notes, in which remarked that the pupil was 14 years old and 5’7” tall, so it would have taken “time and effort” for the teacher to force him into the cupboard. But she concluded that corroborating statements meant the incident was likely to have happened.

At the subsequent disciplinary meeting, the teacher stated that the investigation was unfair, suggesting collusion amongst friends; and reiterating the pupils’ “appalling” behaviour records. The tribunal said that “at no stage” of the disciplinary procedure were their behaviour records obtained. The teacher was dismissed but appealed and again asked for the pupils’ behaviour records to be considered, but the appeal was not upheld.

The tribunal found that the pupils in question had 1,705 entries on school records, between them for dishonesty, abuse to teachers and pupils, and disruption to lessons.

The tribunal also found there were faults at each stage of the process that led to “imbalanced or baseless conclusions” and said that because of the seriousness of the allegations against the teacher and the implications for his career, “the most thorough and careful of investigations was required”, but that this investigation “did not meet that standard”.

​​This case highlights the importance of getting the dismissal process right and evidences the importance of pausing a disciplinary process in order to ascertain further facts and consider all evidence before any decision is made.

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