Head wins libel victory in High Court

30th April 2010 at 01:00
Angry father forced to pay damages after false allegations about school's leaders at the General Teaching Council

A headteacher has become the first to win a libel case over false allegations made about him to the General Teaching Council for England (GTC).

Greg Martin, former head of Durand Primary in south London, had faced a series of accusations from the father of a newly qualified teacher, including suggestions of financial impropriety relating to a scheme that had helped him become one of Britain's best-paid school leaders.

Mr Martin, along with the school's chair of governors and current head, has won a High Court libel case against the accuser Jeff Newall, who was forced to apologise and pay damages.

Mr Martin (main picture), now the school's director of education, gained national attention for overseeing private flats and a gym on the foundation school's site in Stockwell.

Money raised from the scheme has helped the school to cut class sizes and buy a pound;3 million disused private school in Midhurst, in the West Sussex countryside. Durand is now turning the listed mansion into a state-funded boarding school, which its pupils will attend when they reach secondary age.

Mr Newall, a tutor at Derby University, began a letter-writing campaign against the school after his daughter worked there briefly as an NQT in 2006. He had never visited the school but accused it of failing to provide support for new teachers. He published an item on an NUT website urging newly qualified staff to avoid it.

In late 2007, he reported Mr Martin to the GTC, and accused him of unacceptable professional conduct, claiming the head had received an excessive fee for running the school's income-generating activities.

"The complaint implied that this arrangement was corrupt or improper and that Mr Martin had obtained it because he was a close friend of (Jim) Davies, the chairman of governors of Durand," Justin Rushbrooke, counsel for the claimants, told the court.

"It further suggested that Mr Davies failed in his duties as chairman of governors to ensure proper scrutiny of such arrangements, and that as a result children were being deprived of money which should otherwise have been spent on improved facilities and educational support."

The GTC rejected these claims. But Mr Newall made them again publicly when his daughter Jennifer was called before a GTC conduct committee in October 2008, accused of failing to work her full notice at Durand. This time, the committee threw out the allegations against Ms Newall.

It stated: "We heard much evidence about the management of Durand school in this hearing which concerns us, in particular regarding the way induction and school teachers' pay and conditions were managed. It is not our function to deal with these issues, but we note our concern."

Mr Martin, along with Mr Davies and the school's head Mark McLaughlin, later employed the legal firm Carter-Ruck to take libel action against Mr Newall.

Last week, the High Court heard that the allegations about poor treatment of NQTs were unfounded, as the school's Ofsted report had noted that "newly qualified teachers are given a good start to their careers" and that "the school's procedures are rigorous, thorough and supportive".

The court also heard that the school's money-raising development had been thoroughly audited and had benefited pupils.

In a statement, Mr Davies said: "We are delighted that this matter has been resolved and we look forward to getting on with what matters most to us - providing great education to Lambeth children."

Buildings boost

The gym and flats complex at Durand Primary has helped the school to make about pound;350,000 in net profit each year, the High Court heard.

"These benefits have allowed the governing body to dramatically improve the school's facilities, to reduce class sizes to a number substantially lower than in comparable schools, to pay teachers enhanced salaries (commensurate with their performance) and to employ additional support staff so as to reduce the administrative burden on teaching staff," the claimant's counsel Justin Rushbrooke said.

Funding will also go towards the boarding school in Midhurst, West Sussex, which Durand plans to open in 2013. The school, which has picturesque views over the South Downs, will initiallly take 350 pupils aged 13-18.

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