Sacked head in legal row over HMI's role

19th February 1999 at 00:00
AN INDUSTRIAL tribunal hearing an unfair dismissal case brought by a primary head following a critical HMI report has been adjourned while a legal wrangle is resolved. Helen MacLean, former head of Caol primary near Fort William, says she was made a "scapegoat".

Mike Brady, solicitor for Highland Council, told the tribunal in Inverness last week that the Inspectorate's judgment was "just the straw that broke the camel's back". But Mr Brady's assertion that the report was the culmination of a history of problems at the school - "which were, in the greater part, of Mrs MacLean's making" - was challenged by Nick Hosie, the tribunal's chairman, who said events prior to the report were irrelevant.

Highland is to seek clarification of the position from the Employment Appeals Tribunal in Edinburgh. The authority plans to argue that Mrs MacLean was not unfairly dismissed after 10 years as head of the school on a sudden whim but as a result of a steady deterioration in relations with parents and other staff.

HMI pronounced that key aspects of the head's management were unsatisfactory, the lowest rating. "In particular," it stated, "the headteacher failed to gain the full support and confidence of staff and of a significant number of parents. She did not give an effective lead in establishing and maintaining high expectations of pupil behaviour and attainment." There were "significant tensions" with the staff, principally over disciplinary issues.

Mrs MacLean admitted there had been a breakdown in relationships which she was attempting to improve. But she accused the council of failing to address underlying problems at the 200-pupil school. Discipline was affected by the high number of socially deprived and emotionally disturbed pupils, she said.

Following the report, Mrs MacLean told the tribunal, she was initially offered an early retirement package with a 10-year salary enhancement. "I decided to go for the welfare of the school," she said.

But she then discovered officials were offering only five years' enhancement. This would have given her a lump sum of pound;34,700 and an annual pension of pound;11,500, which she said would not have compensated for the loss of her pound;31,000-a-year job.

Mrs MacLean, aged 54, is claiming constructive dismissal.

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