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Sacking row leads to call for reform

Appeal panels need some independence, say union leaders. Biddy Passmore and John Higginson report.

Heads and grant-maintained school leaders are seeking a change in the staff appeals system for opted-out schools in the light of an unfair dismissal case.

Chris Hampson was sacked as headteacher of St James' Church of England School in Bolton over allegations of financial wrong-doing and misleading the governors.

He had claimed wrongful and unfair dismissal, but the dispute was brought to an end by a cash settlement agreed between Mr Hampson and the governors.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he was "obviously pleased" that the settlement involved the withdrawal of the complaints against Mr Hampson, but said the matter should never have got as far as a tribunal.

Now the NAHT and leaders of GM schools are pressing for schools' staff appeal panels to have to include independent members. The NAHT and the Grant Maintained Schools Advisory Committee have been discussing changes in the regulations with the Department for Education and Employment.

When Sir Robert Balchin, the chairman of the Grant Maintained Schools Foundation, gave evidence to the Nolan inquiry into standards in public life, he said appeal panels needed two neutral people drawn from a national list. The Hampson case was "very worrying indeed," Sir Robert told The TES. In his view a head had been dismissed with little or no evidence to suggest he had done anything wrong.

Mr Hampson, an OBE and JP, who had taught at the school since 1976, was a leading campaigner for the introduction of GM schools. Part way through the five-day hearing on the case, the industrial tribunal in Manchester heard that Mr Hampson had agreed to a cash settlement of an undisclosed amount in lieu of notice.

Peter McMasters, representing the head, said it had been agreed that neither party would make any further statement or repetition of the complaints in relation to the case.

After the hearing Mr Hampson said he was pleased with the settlement. "It has been a year of hell for my family and my children and for all those people who have supported me."

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