Nigel Baker of Lexicon Employment Law Training highlights some recent developments in the education field.

Adjudications

Hargreaves v Governing Body of Manchester Grammar School (2018) UKEAT/0048/18/DA

The recent case of Hargreaves v Governing Body of Manchester Grammar School (2018) UKEAT/0048/18/DA provides disciplinary bodies with some guidance. Hargreaves had been a teacher of Art and Design at the school from 2005 until 2016. He had an unblemished disciplinary record when an incident arose at school in which it was alleged that he had acted inappropriately by grabbing a pupil, pushing him against a wall and putting two of his forefingers against the pupil’s throat. When the pupil reported the incident to his former tutor, the boy was visibly upset. The teacher had apparently taken the action he did following a disturbance between the pupil and another boy who was subsequently rugby tackled by the pupil in question. When quizzed by other senior school staff about what had happened, the pupil admitted that there had been some pushing and shoving in the school corridor and he seemed upset and subdued. Various actual and potential witnesses to the incident were interviewed as well as the pupil and the teacher involved. Following a risk assessment, the teacher was suspended. Although the police were initially involved, for various reasons they decided not to pursue the matter further.

Following an internal disciplinary hearing, the teacher was summarily dismissed and his internal appeal was rejected. The teacher’s claim of unfair and wrongful dismissal were subsequently rejected by an employment tribunal. He appealed on the basis that his employer’s disciplinary investigation had been inadequate when taking into account the career-changing impact of the allegations made against him. Furthermore, he contended that the employer had failed to disclose to the disciplinary panel evidence from witnesses who said that they had not seen anything and had such disclosure occurred it would have had the potential to create a different image of events.

The EAT rejected the teacher’s appeal. The employment tribunal had correctly directed itself as to the higher standard of investigation and process which the employer might be expected to take given the potentially career-changing allegation against the teacher. Also, the employer had acted within the range of reasonable responses in deciding to take no further action in respect of the evidence of witnesses who would not have had a direct view of the incident and who had said that they had seen nothing. The employer had correctly pursued this line of inquiry but had decided that its evidence would not assist the disciplinary panel in its deliberations. Further, as the employment tribunal stated, “it did not follow that because those individuals had seen nothing, nothing had happened”. As regards the wrongful dismissal claim, on the balance of probabilities, the teacher had engaged in unwarranted and unreasonable physical conduct amounting to gross misconduct and his employer was not in breach of contract in dismissing him without notice.

Teaching Regulation Authority v Malengela (2018)

The case of Teaching Regulation Authority v Malengela (2018) is a cautionary tale for all concerned. Strict vigilance must be kept where a member of staff collects funds from pupils or their parents, such as for school trips. Mr Malengela was a 41-year-old secondary school languages teacher who was responsible for organising trips abroad for pupils at his school. The cost to parents of one trip to Paris was stated to be £390 but the teacher told the parents that they had to pay a refundable behaviour deposit of £20 for their French hotel. He also asked parents for an extra €20 to be paid to him personally as the children boarded their coach on departure. It was stated that he had also asked families during a briefing for the trip for a security deposit of €25 for a trip to a science museum. For several months, the school made a number of requests for pupil numbers and money but there had been no response from the teacher during a five-month period. When he did respond to the requests, the regulatory panel found that his answers were unhelpful and had the potential to mislead the school’s finance team. None of the deposits from pupils had been communicated or agreed by the school finance team. A subsequent disciplinary investigation by the school alleged serious irregularities in the administration of the trips. The regulatory disciplinary panel found him guilty of calculated and deliberate conduct which fell short of the expected standards of the profession. They ruled that his behaviour amounted to fraud or serious dishonesty and demonstrated a clear lack of integrity. He was accordingly banned indefinitely from teaching in any school or sixth-form college.

Teacher stress and retention

It would seem from recent research that difficult working conditions and the ever-increasing demands on teachers and support staff are having an impact on teachers’ health and their inclination to stay in their chosen profession. According to the Education Support Partnership charity’s Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018, which surveyed more than 1500 UK teachers, almost half of teachers have experienced depression, anxiety or panic attacks. More than 75% had suffered work-related health issues. Senior staff and teachers in leadership roles are also feeling the pressure with 80% suffering from stress some of the time and 31% saying that they had experienced mental health problems in the past academic year. 63% of senior staff indicated that they had considered leaving the profession because of the pressure and impact on their health. The effects of work-related pressure leading to stress and anxiety also caused significant changes in behaviour with 52% overeating, 37% turning to alcohol and 27% incurring unnecessary spending. Staff assistance programmes are clearly vital in providing support mechanisms for both new and experienced teachers.

Increasing class sizes are also a contributory factor in teachers’ stress. The boom in population in recent times has resulted in increasing numbers of young children working their way through primary school from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2. In Yorkshire for example, more than 50,000 primary school pupils across the county have been taught in oversized classes of over 36 pupils, resulting in less individual education for pupils and overworked teachers.

According to a recent report by the National Foundation for Educational Research, there is a chronic problem with teacher retention. Between 2010/11 and 2014/15 the rate of teachers leaving the profession in primary schools has risen from 8.9% to 10.3% and for secondary schools it had increased from 10.8% to 11.8%. The report highlighted low job satisfaction and long working hours with harmful implications for leisure time as two of the key reasons why staff left their jobs.

Violent pupils

The extreme behaviour of a minority of pupils continues to give cause for concern and often manifests itself in violence towards other pupils, teachers and school support staff. A survey of almost 4800 support staff by the GMB union found that more than half had suffered violence while at work with over 770 stating that they were attacked every week. One worrying dimension was the young age of some of the perpetrators which is also reflected in the statistics for referrals to pupil referral units (PRUs). In 2018, 16,732 were registered to PRUs, an increase from 13,583 in 2015. Of these, 1572 were aged 10 or under amounting to double the number from six years ago and 58 of referrals to PRUs were aged five years.

However, a recent Home Office study has highlighted the fact that those pupils who are excluded from school and placed in PRUs are frequently a target for criminals and drugs gangs who seek to exploit them. Such children are often groomed by others and move further astray, rarely achieving academic success. Despite the committed hard work by staff, registration at a PRU brings with it a series of further related issues.

Last reviewed 9 January 2019