Drinks trip teacher unfairly dismissed

19th December 1997 at 00:00
The principal teacher who allowed pupils to drink alcohol on a school trip was unfairly dismissed, an industrial tribunal has ruled.

In what was thought to be the first case of its kind, Derek Ross, head of drama at Elgin Academy, argued that the punishment by Moray Council had been excessive.

The tribunal's decision, which will be spelt out in a written judgment in a few weeks, is a vindication of the General Teaching Council whose disciplinary committee refused to remove Mr Ross from the register.

The GTC's decision may well have been a crucial factor in convincing the tribunal, which held a three-day hearing in Inverness, not to uphold the dismissal. There were fears that other teachers would face disciplinary action over commonplace practices on school trips such as allowing pupils to take wine with their meals.

The tribunal heard that Mr Ross, who has taught at Elgin Academy for 22 years, was on a trip to Dundee with a dozen 15 to 17-year-old girls in September last year and bought lager and lime for some of them in a cafe bar. When he left them to go shopping, they drank tequila slammers and long vodkas. One girl was sick over another at the drama workshop and fell asleep on the bus journey north.

Mr Ross, aged 42, was also criticised for leaving the girls to find their own way home when the bus reached Rothes, where he lives. He admitted errors of judgment.

Kevin Gavin, Moray's director of education, was unavailable to comment and enquiries were referred to the press office. A statement said: "The tribunal decision was that the application was successful for procedural reasons. "

A crucial issue may have been the legal advice given to the council. Margo Howe, the education committee's chairman, told the tribunal councillors were advised that dismissal was the only option, which they proceeded to vote for by eight votes to six.

A new disciplinary code circulated earlier this year for comment by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities lists at least five alternatives to dismissal, and these model procedures are now likely to form the basis for disciplining teachers across Scotland.

Other steps include demotion, suspension with pay, stoppage of pay, temporary or permanent loss of rights or other benefits. The draft code states: "Penalties short of dismissal could be used as alternatives to dismissal and, in such a case, accompanied by a final warning or repetition of a previous warning."

But one senior education authority figure commented: "Circumstances will alter cases and it would be unwise to pronounce on the circumstances of this particular case until the tribunal gives the reasons for its decision in full."

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