Tribunal backs sacked head

26th November 2004 at 00:00
Ten years' service was repaid by instant dismissal after an adverse inspection. Stephen Lucas reports.

A headteacher who was ousted from a Suffolk village primary following a critical inspection report has won an unfair dismissal claim.

Lynda Smith was dismissed without notice from Gazeley Church of England primary, near Newmarket, on August 6 last year. Her compensation will be decided by an employment tribunal in the new year.

Suffolk county council changed the locks of the school where Mrs Smith had been head for a decade and told the 51-year-old not to return after inspectors found serious weaknesses in quality of teaching.

Mrs Smith, a mother of four, said: "It was a horrendous time. I thought I might never teach again, and I love teaching. It has been a great part of my life.

"It has been extremely stressful. I have been a head for many years and was not expecting anything like this. I have worked hard and always had praise.

To find yourself in that position is scary."

Mrs Smith, who was sacked after she refused to resign following the Ofsted inspection in February 2003, now teaches reception at a Cambridgeshire primary.

Inspectors said her 29-pupil school was friendly and welcoming and that teaching was sound in reception and Years 1 and 2, but unsatisfactory in Years 3 and 4.

A subsequent investigation by the local authority confirmed the findings.

Mrs Smith, of Cheveley, Suffolk, told an employment tribunal that there had been no complaints from parents or the council about the way she ran the school prior to the Ofsted inspection.

She said the report and the results of the council's management audit had been completely unexpected.

But Caroline Robinson, Suffolk's primary school adviser, told the tribunal that parents and staff had lost confidence in Mrs Smith.

Brian Mitchell, the tribunal chairman, decided that dismissing a head against whom no criticism had been levelled for the previous 10 years was unreasonable.

The tribunal, which sat in Bury St Edmunds, said that the council had not followed its own dismissal procedures.

Mr Mitchell said: "It is unusual for shortcomings in performance to entitle an employer to dismiss without first telling the employee of the respects in which he or she is failing to do the job adequately, giving warning of the possibility of dismissal and giving an opportunity of improving performance."

A Suffolk county council spokeswoman said: "We are extremely disappointed in this decision as we believed we had a very strong case, backed by legal and technical expertise. We are still considering how to respond."

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