Sparks fly as Roedean fights #163;128K physics teacher payout

8th February 2013 at 00:00
School made an error that 'should not have taxed a seven-year-old'

A prestigious girls' boarding school is appealing a six-figure compensation payout to a teacher it made redundant by mistake after failing to work out an "elementary sum" when rating his performance.

Roedean School has been ordered to pay nearly #163;128,000 by an employment tribunal after being found to have unfairly dismissed physics teacher Andrew Keir. The tribunal said that the school had made Mr Keir redundant after making an error in maths "that should not have taxed a seven-year-old".

The mistake was made following the 2009 merger of Roedean, which charges fees of #163;31,350 a year, with nearby St Mary's Hall private girls' school, where Mr Keir worked as head of science.

Staff were told they could reapply for their jobs in competition with staff from Roedean, which Mr Keir elected to do. But when scoring the teachers on their skills and experience, an error was made that led Mr Keir to be selected for redundancy, even though he had won the competition.

The initial tribunal decision, which dates back to 2011, said the redundancy had prematurely terminated Mr Keir's teaching career, "depriving him of the pinnacle of his life's work".

An employment judge ordered Roedean to reinstate Mr Keir, which the school failed to do, prompting the compensation award. Roedean is now appealing the amount, meaning that both parties will be back in front of a tribunal again this June.

Mr Keir had 35 years' experience, including stints at leading private schools Gordonstoun in Scotland and Benenden in Kent, when he lost his job.

The tribunal judge wrote that "any competent and reasonable employer would have incorporated a checking mechanism" to ensure that the right person was made redundant following the competition. He also criticised the school's handling of its subsequent internal appeal, saying it had been conducted in a "shallow and perfunctory manner".

A later hearing from 2011 found that the school had been "burying its head in the sand" over the reinstatement of Mr Keir and said that headteacher Frances King had not considered how it would be managed.

"It was apparent from her demeanour and the way she gave evidence that Mrs King was displeased at suffering disruption to her day to come to the tribunal," the judgment said. "[This] increased when it became apparent the tribunal was giving serious consideration to the claimant's request for reinstatement, which conflicted with her wishes."

Mr Keir said it had come as a "shock" to be dismissed by Roedean and that he felt he had been "shunted aside without a second thought". "When you find that the entire process hinged on faulty addition of five single-digit numbers, you expect a professional organisation to "fess up' and try to resolve the situation," he said.

A spokeswoman for Roedean refused to comment in detail, but said the school was disappointed by the decision of the tribunal and would appeal the compensation award.

The original employment tribunal in May 2011 dismissed Mr Keir's other claims of discrimination on the grounds of age and disability.

The row has come to light after Mrs King said she was leaving Roedean this summer for an international school in Switzerland. There is no suggestion that her decision is linked to the tribunal.

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