'I was treated like a criminal' says head

Former school boss cleared of bullying after three years

An experienced head accused of bullying staff, pupils and parents has spoken for the first time about her three-year ordeal after being cleared of unacceptable conduct.

Vivette Ferguson, who worked as a teacher for almost 30 years before being suspended in June 2003 after complaints from staff and governors, said she had been treated "worse than a criminal".

"I thought I would feel really elated now - I was very, very happy with the verdict," said the former head of St Andrew's Church of England primary, in Islington, north London.

"But then you stop and think, "My life has been on hold, my career cut short and my family has suffered. You're never going to get that back.

"It took so long to get to the hearing - more than three years. I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, but I had all these allegations hanging over me. You can't make any plans. You just hang around and hang around."

The 54-year-old was cleared this week by England's General Teaching Council of 13 allegations of behaving aggressively towards pupils, staff and parents, breaching confidentiality, failing to respond to accusations of mistreating a pupil, breaching employment procedures and failing to conduct specially-funded classes.

Mrs Ferguson said Cambridge Education Associates, which administers education in Islington, had no grounds to dismiss her.

"It wanted me out, so it just threw at me anything it had," she said. "I don't think it should be able to get away with what it did. But what can I do?

"Having been cleared of everything, will CEA consider giving me compensation for loss of earnings? It should pay for what it did. You just wonder how many other heads it has done this to."

Mrs Ferguson, who has been working part-time at Tyssen community primary in Hackney, east London, as an ethnic minority achievement teacher, is still angry with the London diocesan board for schools and governors.

She said: "Because I had people who had faith in me - my friends, my family, my colleagues - it allowed me to come through that period when you feel worse than a criminal, when it's all out in public but you can't say anything.

"It deeply affected me as a person. As a whole, I was a very trusting person. I am a Christian. But the way I was treated by CEA, the board of governors and the London diocesan board makes you think about who you trust.

"But it won't make me bitter. I have not been spoken to by anyone from the London diocesan board since I was suspended - they treated me worse than a criminal. CEA should have approached me if it thought I had done something wrong. Some of the allegations were so trivial, it was unbelievable.

"I always thought the governors were supposed to be 'critical friends', but they didn't provide any support."

Although Mrs Ferguson does not allege that racism played a part in her case, she said her experience could dissuade members of ethnic minority groups from becoming teachers.

"They are always going on about wanting more ethnic minorities to join the profession," she said. "But why would anyone want to join the profession when they see what has happened to me?"

A spokeswoman for Cambridge Education Associates said: "If complaints are made about a headteacher and the governing body raises concerns, then we must investigate. In Mrs Ferguson's case, she chose to resign before our investigation could conclude. Action by the GTC is taken independently.

Under the circumstances, we would not consider the payment of compensation to be appropriate."

The London diocesan board refused to comment.

* newsdesk@tes.co.uk

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