Northumberland school insists there is 'no evidence' that pupils were 'hidden on squash courts' during Ofsted inspection
A school insists there is no evidence to substantiate employment tribunal claims that problem pupils were hidden on squash courts during an Ofsted inspection.
Teacher Ged Thomas, who on sick leave from Berwick Academy at the time, turned whistleblower by making protected disclosures to Ofsted after considering allegations made to him by colleagues and parents in January 2018 as “the last straw”.
He has now won his case for unfair dismissal after he was sacked for gross misconduct later the same year following a disciplinary investigation into subsequent social media posts about both the school and then head Alexis Widdowson.
Compensation is likely to be determined at a further employment tribunal hearing.
Judge Tudor Garnon, however, has already stated that payment “should be reduced to take into account his contributory conduct both in the terms he used in the posts and his stance during the disciplinary process”.
His newly-published judgement adds that there was enough evidence for him to infer that “the protected disclosures themselves, possibly those in January but more probably combined with the posts, were the principal reason for the initial dismissal”.
Chair of school trustees Donna Goddard said: “We are disappointed with the employment tribunal's decision that Mr Thomas was unfairly dismissed, particularly in view of its findings regarding his high degree of contributory fault towards his dismissal.
"We wish to emphasise that the tribunal rejected Mr Thomas' principal argument that he was dismissed for publicly raising concerns or ‘blowing the whistle', as the academy has robustly maintained throughout.
“This judgement relates to legal proceedings which have been ongoing since 2018, in respect of events which took place under previous senior leadership teams.
"The academy wishes to move forward and continue working with relevant stakeholders to deliver the highest standards of education to its current and future pupils.
“The allegation that children were hidden in squash courts during an Ofsted inspection in January 2018 was subject to an extensive internal investigation once it was brought to the academy's attention some time later.
"There was no evidence to substantiate this allegation.
“I’d like to add to the above that, while we still aren’t where we want to be at the academy, the current senior leadership team are doing a great job in moving the academy forward in the right direction during incredibly difficult circumstances.
"As a parent, they and a lot of their peers across the country, deserve our thanks.”
Ms Widdowson left the academy before the published 2018 report deemed the school “inadequate” and did not give evidence to the tribunal.
The school, which has 472 pupils aged 13-18, remains in special measures with routine Ofsted inspections currently suspended due to the pandemic.
Mr Thomas said: “I’m reasonably pleased to have won my case for unfair and wrongful dismissal and to be vindicated for speaking up and blowing the whistle about the situation at Berwick Academy.
“The school should never have allowed to get in this position.”
He now hopes the school and other agencies will engage fully “with the community to achieve the rapid improvements necessary for the young people and families of Berwick”.
Mr Thomas added: "It‘s essential for the future well being of the community that it has a high school that’s capable of delivering a quality education offer for its young people.”