LEA and governors `ignored rules'

25th November 1994 at 00:00
Nick Holdsworth follows the chain of events following a Wakefield teacher's forced redeployment two years ago.

A sociology teacher who was wrongfully dismissed by a northern education authority after being forced out of his comprehensive school job under a technically illegal redeployment scheme has been awarded Pounds 10,000 compensation (TES, November 18). But two years later Michael Lock is still fighting for his job back at Outwood Grange High School, Wakefield, after winning a series of industrial tribunals which highlight the difficulties faced when teachers' jobs are threatened in schools with local management.

Mr Lock had 15 years experience and was on a salary of Pounds 19,000 when he was told his job would go after a school budget crisis because of his local authority's failure to fund fully the national pay award.

His was a popular course at Outwood Grange - one of the country's largest comprehensives with more than 2,000 pupils - but along with one other teacher, Mr Lock found himself no longer employed at the school.

But the school did not dismiss 46-year-old Mr Lock. Against his wishes, he was instead transferred to the education authority's central staffing unit under a redeployment scheme. Two terms later the authority made Mr Lock redundant.

The move was technically illegal under the Education Reform Act of 1988 which made governing bodies the first line of referral in such cases, not the LEA. It was because of this that the tribunal members reasoned that at the time of his dismissal, Mr Lock had been "employed solely to work at the school". After April 1991, when Wakefield introduced LMS, the tribunal said that only those procedures laid down by the 1988 Act - that governors must allow a teacher to appeal against proposed dismissal before asking the LEA to implement this - should have been used. The new rules meant that an "LEA's previous contractual powers of compulsory redeployment were thus for the time being restricted by statute", according to the tribunal.

Outwood Grange's governors had not followed the rules and by forcing him into a compulsory redeployment scheme, they and the LEA broke the law, although the tribunal recognised that at the time head Geoffrey Smith, a local convenor for the Secondary Heads Association, and the board of governors had not been advised by the LEA that the redeployment procedure failed to comply with the law.

Mr Lock's union, the National Union of Teachers, later drew the attention of the school and authority to the law, but this was ignored - "education officers were fully aware that the redeployment procedure which had been used did not contain the procedural safeguards provided by ERA," one tribunal hearing said.

Early NUT support for Mr Lock faded after he refused to accept a union-brokered deal for his sociology post to be half-funded directly by Wakefield, with his contract moved from the school to the authority - which he feared would leave him vulnerable to redundancy.

Today Mr Lock, who lives in the Leeds suburb of Adel with his wife - also a teacher - and teenage daughter, is having to teach part-time, paid on an hourly basis, at local colleges. Five separate industrial tribunals have ruled in his favour.

They found that Mr Lock's employment rights had been consistently ignored - at Outwood Grange when he was wrongly redeployed, and by Wakefield which unfairly dismissed him after a round of redundancies in the central teaching pool later.

Mr Lock sees his as a case which reflects the revolution heralded by the Reform Act and the introduction of local management of schools.

"The extent to which my employment rights have been withdrawn are massive - it should send a shudder through teachers up and down the country."

The chain of events which started in May 1992 and which led to the authority agreeing earlier this month to pay the Pounds 10,000 compensation - the statutory maximum for unfair dismissal - does not end Mr Lock's battle to assert his rights.

He still wants his job back - which the school refuses to do, despite rulings ordering this. Sociology has now been dropped from the timetable.

He has asked Education Secretary Gillian Shephard to use her powers under the 1944 Education Act to order the governing body to reinstate him - and is planning to sue the school and Wakefield for breach of contract and negligence if that fails.

The details of Mr Lock's case reflect the difficulties LEAs face in trying to use redeployment to soften the blow of job losses when governors now decide who to hire or fire. But it also underlines how essential it is for teachers to establish precisely their employment rights under LMS.

Having been forced into Wakefield's redeployment scheme, Mr Lock was found work at another local school for the autumn term, but fell under a round of redundancies within the central teaching pool, finally being dismissed in April last year.

His old post, which the school said it could fill only as a half-time post, was advertised even before he left and was filled by an unqualified female teacher. She was later made redundant and has pursued her own action for unfair dismissal.

Malcolm Anderson, NUT regional secretary, says the union gave Mr Lock advice that would have stopped his being dismissed from the school and subsequent redundancy from the authority - although he admits the wrong procedure and approach were used in Wakefield.

"Mr Lock was more intersted in proving the letter of the law than dealing with the spirit of trying to avoid redundancies."

Peter Downes, president of SHA, says there are lessons to be learned for school management at a time when the law is tighter than in the past. "We have to understand and follow the procedures to the letter. It sometimes restricts management freedom, but it's a basic protection of individual rights."

Andy Inett, principal negotiating officer of the Local Government Management Board, says that although local management of schools effectively limits flexibility, redeployment has a useful role for LEAs when teachers lose their posts through redundancy or reorganisation.

Neither the school nor Joyce Beech, its chair of governors, would comment.

Wakefield council would only say: "It's not possible to comment in brief on a matter which was extremely complex and involved five separate decisions of the industrial tribunal."

Mr Lock says he will not quit. "It's my job. As far as I'm concerned the governing body and head have acted unlawfully." He plans to set up as a consultant to teachers facing similar difficulties if he fails to get his job back.

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