Headteacher wins unfair dismissal claim

A HEADTEACHER whose reputation was left “in tatters” when she was ordered out of a tiny Suffolk primary school has won an unfair dismissal claim.Lynda Smith was dismissed from her job in charge at Gazeley Primary School, near Newmarket - which at the time was the smallest in the county - following a critical Ofsted report.

A HEADTEACHER whose reputation was left “in tatters” when she was ordered out of a tiny Suffolk primary school has won an unfair dismissal claim.

Lynda Smith was dismissed from her job in charge at Gazeley Primary School, near Newmarket - which at the time was the smallest in the county - following a critical Ofsted report.

She said that before Government inspectors visited the school, there had been no complaints from Suffolk County Council about the way she was running it at a time when pupil numbers had fallen to just 16.

Mrs Smith, 51, of Ashley Road, Cheveley, took her case to an employment tribunal which in June spent three days hearing a claim of unfair dismissal. The claim had been denied by the county council.

The three-member tribunal panel sitting at Bury St Edmunds has now ruled the county council failed to follow its own procedures before Mrs Smith's 10-year headship at Gazeley was terminated.

Tribunal chairman Brian 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”.

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Mr Mitchell said the council had wanted to close the school and remove Mrs Smith almost as soon as the Ofsted report was delivered and before an action plan to address the issues raised had been prepared.

The report, produced early last year, identified serious weaknesses within Gazeley, a condition affecting fewer than 2% of schools nationally.

When the council carried out its own inspection and said it confirmed the problems highlighted by Ofsted, the decision was made to remove Mrs Smith because it was considered she would not be able to rectify the situation, the tribunal was told.

Appointed head at Gazeley in September 1992, Mrs Smith said she operated an informal management style in keeping with the friendly atmosphere of the school but always kept up-to-date with developments in education.

She had maintained a good relationship with staff, governors and parents and was unaware of any formal complaints being made against her.

She was given the choice of resigning or being dismissed for gross misconduct for not maintaining the necessary standards, she told the tribunal.

Mrs Smith said that despite having been warned that she risked her teaching career by not being given a reference, she decided not to resign. As a result the council dismissed her in August last year.

She was told not to return to the school and that the locks were being changed. An appeal failed to get her dismissal reversed.

Mrs Smith told the tribunal: “No-one seems to have benefited and I have been left with a tarnished career and reputation”.

After Mrs Smith's departure the school was placed in the care of an acting headteacher and later closed. The tribunal is due to resume in January to decide on the level of compensation to be paid to Mrs Smith.

Following the hearing, a Suffolk County Council spokesman said: “Obviously we are disappointed in this decision as we believed we had a strong case.

“We have just received the judgement and are still considering how to respond.”

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