Sacked head awarded pound;70,000

16th October 2009 at 01:00
Tribunal finds governors' actions following dip in key stage 2 results `substantially unfair'

A headteacher at a Church of England primary school has won compensation of more than pound;70,000 - the maximum available - after she was unfairly sacked from her job.

Christine McCracken was forced out of her role at St Bartholomew's Primary School in Haslemere, Surrey, following a dip in the school's key stage 2 test results.

In a damning verdict, an employment tribunal criticised the school's governors for their "flawed" disciplinary process, which was described as "substantially unfair".

Mrs McCracken, who had been in charge at the school since 1997, was not given proper feedback, warning or the opportunity to improve, the tribunal found.

In a review of her performance in December 2007, Dr Andrew Spriggs, chair of governors, said Mrs McCracken had done what was asked of her and expressed confidence that she would take the school in the right "direction".

When Dr Spriggs tried to backtrack on this assessment during the tribunal, the panel said it "could not for one moment accept the very strange interpretation" he was trying to give them.

Just two months later, Dr Spriggs told Mrs McCracken not to return to school after she had been off sick for a short period, even though she had a doctor's certificate saying she was fit to work.

Dr Spriggs emailed other governors saying the head was defying him and asking them to provide any concerns about her behaviour from parents, staff or other governors.

In evidence, Dr Spriggs said it had been necessary to keep her away from the school because "her behaviour was so disruptive". The tribunal found no evidence to support this.

For Mrs McCracken, who cares for her husband who suffers from multiple sclerosis, her headship was her second stint at the school, having previously risen to acting head.

There had been no previous disciplinary action against her. A dip in Sats results in 2006 led to a plan of action to improve standards, but no criticism was made of the head.

"I was completely devastated," said Mrs McCracken, who was suspended for a year before being sacked. "I had developed a very successful school and had an excellent record of achievement. Suddenly, I lost a successful career and job to which I was devoted."

Although the chair of governors has since left, Mrs McCracken is angry that some of his colleagues remain in post.

"By suspending me on vexatious grounds, I was isolated and prevented from doing my job for a significant period of time," said Mrs McCracken.

A Surrey County Council spokesman said: "We accept the tribunal's decision, although we are disappointed because we believe we acted in the best interests of the school and its pupils."

The Reverend Mark Rudall, spokesman for the Diocese of Guildford, said: "The school is moving forward under new leadership and our hope is that Mrs McCracken can do the same in the wake of what has been a distressing period."

Jenni Watson, national secretary of Redress, which represents teachers in tribunals and disciplinary cases, said Mrs McCracken's case was part of a growing problem.

"This case illustrates the all too prevalent lack of objectivity in disciplinary cases judged by governing bodies," she said.

"Tribunals are increasingly expressing disapproval of investigations that only consider evidence against the teacher and judgments made against the weight of evidence."

Paying the price

Teachers were awarded more than pound;18 million in compensation payouts in 2008 for employment disputes and injuries suffered at work. They include pound;220,000 for a teacher in Kent who suffered permanent head injury when a box of paper fell on her.

Sharon Lewis, from Nottingham, was awarded pound;280,000 earlier this year after a violent attack by a pupil ended her career, while Eveline Gordon, of Craigavad, Northern Ireland, won more than pound;56,500 after being forced from her job in a "sham" redundancy.

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