Private girls' school guilty of unfair dismissal

Tribunal rules that teacher lost her job because of pregnancy

Stephen Exley

A prestigious independent girls' school has been found guilty of unfairly dismissing a teacher after she fell pregnant.

Days after Rebecca Raven informed Howell's School in Denbigh, North Wales, that she was expecting a child, she was told that she was being dismissed. The school said the decision was made because the head of its art department, for whom Ms Raven was covering, had announced his retirement.

But in a subsequent meeting she was told by Robbie Locke, a trustee at the school, that her maternity leave would have been "disruptive" to pupils. "Maternity leave is very disruptive to business and has made businesses go bust," he said, according to evidence submitted to an employment tribunal. "We already have a staff member who has worked only four weeks this year and has been paid for a full year. This is ridiculous as she has not done any work and she is still getting paid. This cannot happen again."

Ms Raven - who sent two of her children to the school - was also told that her maternity pay would have "been better used to improve the school and facilities", which the tribunal in Shrewsbury found was in a "precarious" financial position at the time due to its roll dropping by 30 per cent.

When Ms Raven later applied for a new part-time art teacher post at the school, her application was rejected.

The tribunal found that the school had breached employment and equality laws, as Ms Raven's dismissal from her #163;23,000-a-year post in July 2011 was "on the grounds of her pregnancymaternity leave".

"The supreme irony of a girls' school dismissing a teacher when she became pregnant almost beggars belief," said Philip Dixon, director of education union ATL Cymru, which represented Ms Raven. "This is an appalling example to give to pupils who are, hopefully, being educated to be young, independent women with fulfilling careers and lives."

Ms Raven, who joined the school in 2008, said she was pleased to have won the case. "It was terrible being told I was losing a job I loved. Losing my job put a dampener on what should have been a really joyous time for me, looking forward to the birth of my third child. I hope the school's trustees have come to their senses."

Mr Locke told TES that the school "took the decision to make the art teacher post part-time without knowledge or reference to Ms Raven's pregnancy". "As an employer we continue to operate within our equal opportunities policies. We cannot comment further as we are considering our position pending an appeal," he added.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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