'Disloyal' deputy head loses tribunal;News

24th December 1999 at 00:00
A woman who went behind her headteacher's back to question his competence has lost her claim for unfair dismissal, reports Karen Thornton.

A DEPUTY sacked for making unsubstantiated accusations about her headteacher has had her claim for unfair dismissal thrown out.

Jo Withnall was suspended then sacked from Woodlands special school in Aspley, Nottingham, after going to the chair of governors with papers questioning headteacher John Smith's competence, in the run-up to an inspection.

An employment tribunal, sitting in Nottingham and Manchester, dismissed her claims that she was unfairly dismissed and dismissed in breach of her contract of employment. Instead it agreed that she was guilty of gross misconduct and rightly sacked.

The tribunal heard that there had also been difficulties between Mrs Withnall, who was responsible for pastoral care, and the previous head, Jan Campion, who she alleged had been drinking alcohol at the school.

An investigation by the education authority found no evidence to substantiate that claim, but implicitly criticised Mrs Withnall for her lack of judgment in failing to remove a bottle found in the cistern of the staff toilet.

The governors' concerns about Mrs Withnall's alleged disloyalty to Ms Campion were raised with her by Mr Smith, when he took over at Woodlands in April 1997.

She had unsuccessfully applied for the same post - one of 12 applications by her for headships in four years, the tribunal heard.

In September, she produced a series of documents for the chairman of governors, Mike Leigh.

These questioned Mr Smith's handling of issues ranging from preparation for an inspection to exclusions of pupils.

She claimed Mr Leigh had requested them, but the tribunal ruled that she had in fact instigated them herself. Mr Leigh had initially been concerned about Mr Smith's competence, but had resolved his worries. He considered Mrs Withnall to be disloyal, the tribunal found. He had accepted further documents from her to use as evidence against her.

Neither the head nor Mr Leigh gave evidence to the tribunal or the school's disciplinary hearing into Mrs Withnall's conduct, because of ill-health.

But the tribunal reported: "We have no doubt that the effect of the documents was substantially to undermine the position of the headteacher and that producing them was in breach of all the expectations of loyalty and trust which Mrs Withnall herself conceded must exist.

"The reason for the dismissal was that Mrs Withnall had committed misconduct by going be-hind the back of the headteacher to the chair of governors, making serious and unsubstantiated allegations which undermined the headteacher and caused an irretrievable breakdown of trust and confidence in her."

The tribunal decision was welcomed by Andy Irons, head of personnel and training at Nottingham city council.

Mrs Withnall refused to comment on the case.

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