Northumberland teacher who told Ofsted that pupils were 'hidden on squash courts' wins unfair dismissal battle

A teacher who turned whistleblower about his failing school has won his battle to prove that he was unfairly and wrongly dismissed.

Monday, 18th January 2021, 8:59 am

Ged Thomas contacted education watchdog Ofsted to make protected disclosures about disputed claims that “misbehaving” children were hidden on squash courts during a full inspection at Berwick Academy.

The PE and maths teacher also outlined concerns about the school on social media and was sacked for gross misconduct later the same year at a disciplinary hearing before losing his appeal.

An employment tribunal, however, has now decided that Mr Thomas was unfairly and wrongly dismissed after concluding that the initial investigation was “deeply flawed on many grounds” and that “any breach of lawful and reasonable instructions" in making the Facebook posts “was not an indication of his disloyalty”.

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Ged Thomas contacted education watchdog Ofsted to make protected disclosures about disputed claims about Berwick Academy.

The newly-published 44-page judgement discusses how the school at the time had a social media policy, a whistleblowing policy and a staff code of conduct, adding: “The procedures were so many and complex it was inevitable there would be disagreement on whether they were complied with fully.”

It also details how Mr Thomas, who had previously spoken publicly about his concerns for the academy, was contacted while on sick leave in January 2018 about the first day of a full Ofsted inspection at the academy.

The judgement states: "He received text messages from a colleague and parents saying certain pupils, who were known for misbehaving, had been removed from lessons to the squash courts out of sight of the inspection team.

Former Berwick Academy teacher Ged Thomas has won his legal fight to prove that he was unfairly and wrongly dismissed by the school.

"Hiding children from Ofsted inspectors would almost certainly amount to concealment of information which tends to show relevant failures.

"That for him was the last straw. He formally raised his concerns to Ofsted through their online school teachers portal, whilst sitting in his car.

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Northumberland school insists there is 'no evidence' that pupils were 'hidden on...

"These clearly were protected disclosures. He later received requests for further information from Ofsted and the DfE."

Berwick Academy was at the centre of an employment tribunal following its dismissal of a teacher.

Headteacher Alexis Widdowson left the school before the published report labelled the academy as “inadequate” – the lowest of four grades – and before the start of the disciplinary process against Mr Thomas later the same year after he commented about her departure on Facebook.

The academy insisted at the 2020 tribunal that the social media posts, which it judged as derogatory or offensive, were “the sole reason for dismissal” as they were not protected disclosures.

But employment judge Tudor Garnon has now concluded: “The respondent has not proved on the balance of probabilities the claimant was guilty of gross misconduct because any breach of lawful and reasonable instructions was not an indication of his disloyalty to, or wish to harm, the academy as such.”

Judge Garnon upheld claims for wrongful dismissal, unfair dismissal, compensation for untaken annual leave and breach of contract relating to missing property.

Claims over unlawful deductions of wages were dismissed and compensation is expected to be determined at a further hearing.

His judgement also states that the school has undergone changes of leadership and governance since the 2018 inspection with a 2019 Ofsted visit noting “significant improvements were still necessary” while acknowledging that “positive measures had been implemented”.

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