Friday, 29 February 2008

Horror Stories

“School disciplinary processes leave teachers ruined, destroyed and damaged beyond repair” argues E. A. Francis, in a series in which TES readers share their experiences of education. Source: TES

Experienced, successful and skilled educationalists are leaving the profession ruined, destroyed and damaged beyond repair.

Confident personalities have been reduced to rubble by the grievance and disciplinary procedures in schools.

Some head teachers are getting away with condoning this travesty through the perpetuation of corruption or subterfuge.

I am talking of that all too frequent occurrence happening in schools around the country every single day. That fateful day when you walk into your place of work only to be summoned by the head teacher and told a colleague has made accusations about you.

Your world stands still. You feel sick, confused, hurt; and then you feel a fear beyond your experience and understanding.

At no time are you allowed to suggest these allegations are malicious; that would violate the accuser’s rights and interfere with the school’s policy to investigate.

You can not get angry; that makes you look aggressive. You can not say anything you have experienced; for example, isolation, being ignored, gossiped about, set up and not spoken to for weeks, months, years.

Oh no ! That would give the investigator ammunition to suggest you are not showing any remorse. You are guilty as charged. Condemned, judged and hanged – before you even get to your first grievance meeting.

Oh, and don’t, whatever you do, speak to another colleague about it. Not even if you are in tears or unable to concentrate on your job or that you have been found throwing up in the toilets. You will be told you are ‘canvassing’ for support which could result in a suspension.

An unofficial action group may form, those types who simply need to get involved, the one, two or three people who you have had a professional disagreement with in the past or maybe even the one or two who internally applied for your job and didn’t get it. They need to be heard, they make it their mission to be heard. Their evidence will help seal your fate because they have all been called as witnesses ! Your reports of this group are considered hearsay. Their reports of you are a vital part of a fact finding investigation.

Then that day arrives, after months of grievance and disciplinary interviews, the hearing, the decision. You receive a Verbal Warning if you are lucky, Written Warning – well not bad, let’s face facts, you have been told for months now you could be dismissed, so any Warning is quite a relief.

It was just such a shame no one believed you. It is even more sorrowful that tissues of convenient lies were believed instead. It is a tragedy you have lost all your confidence, faith, self-esteem and professional self-belief. For these things are to be dealt with by you and you alone, quietly and gratefully. Your life has been torn apart, your heart has been ripped out and every single thing you held dear has been dismantled, analysed and spat upon. You now have a stress related illness.

You need time away to recover. So now you have an official Warning and a sick record with a mental health diagnosis. Well that is fine, you didn’t get the sack. Just because you have lost the ability to go out, enjoy your hobbies, have peaceful evenings with your family, meet with friends, have restful holidays, sleep the entire night. None of that matters, as you didn’t get sacked !

Sometimes, untrained and unskilled members of a senior teaching staff act as a prosecutor would in a criminal court case. Even the police are not allowed to interview suspected criminals for more than a certain amount of hours at a time but schools can - and some do. So this untrained member of SMT who has probably never studied Employment Law, is unlikely to have read the Human Rights Act and who has possibly only just read the school’s grievance procedure is now responsible for your future !

Something has to change and it has to change quickly. I think it an outrage that so many good educationalists have had their careers ruined as a result of malicious allegations made against them by colleagues.

The system whereby a head teacher is able to act as judge and jury is ridiculous, unjust and only seems to favour what is ‘best’ for the school, which means no scandal, no press involvement and certainly no union clashes. Head teachers are seldom trained in law but disciplinary hearings are run by heads and senior managers as though they were QCs for the day.

Thousands of pounds of public money would be saved if this whole system were reviewed. These cases can result in a drawing up of a Compromise Agreement which has been known to involve ‘hush’ money. They are called ‘gagging contracts’ by those in the know.

Why can’t schools recognise the need for strategic management designed to avoid or at least preempt potential cases of staff against staff ? Ad hoc mediators should be available without the waiting lists. In-house counselling services should be available to everyone and the protection of vulnerable staff should be high on every head teacher’s agenda.

Grievance and disciplinary investigators should not be members of the involved school’s Senior Management Team. Be wary about who is taken on. Power in the wrong hands can only result in disaster.

Some cases are so trivial that dismissal may be threatened in order to encourage a resignation but if none is forthcoming, they are taken all the way and broken by the process. If they don’t leave, their Warning can be used against them for up to a year, like the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, so just add on a few more ‘misdemeanors’ and with a bit of luck this newly acquired sickness record could be very handy towards conjuring up a capability case.

Current policy must be reviewed, evaluated and changed. The ‘accused’ should be afforded the same rights and support as the ‘aggrieved’. Witnesses interviewed during the grievance and disciplinary procedures are called by the ‘aggrieved’ and cannot be called in defence of the ‘accused’.

How can that be a balanced and just system ? It should be policy to assign an HR support worker for the ‘accused’. Independently run disciplinary hearings must be a forum for outing truth, irrespective of how inconvenient that truth is.

If this does not happen, experienced and respected staff will continue to be forced to leave the profession in droves because this is happening too often and towards too many.

“Established and experienced teachers are being forced out of their chosen vocation, through what they have described as malicious and fabricated allegations against them by their colleagues.”
E. A. Francis explains how you can protect yourself against such harmful claims. Source: TES

Here is a check list to help you to protect yourself:
  1. Have you got every single accusation in writing ? If not, the procedure must not continue.

  2. Do you still have to work with your accuser ? If so, why is this being allowed ?

  3. Contact your union. If they are unhelpful, call an Employment Solicitor. Ensure you are talking to a solicitor who specialises in Employment Law. You can telephone around and ask the receptionists in Law Firms. They may even be able to recommend a local EL solicitor, should they not specialise themselves.

    Do not be afraid of doing this. If you know these allegations are unfounded, do something immediately. Do not wait around to get more and more ill. A solicitor has the potential and the understanding to reassure you within your first free-of-charge half an hour.

  4. If your union is helpful, still call a solicitor for the same reasons. Unions have their limitations, Employment Law lawyers do not. It is a possibility that your union representative wants a quick conclusion. This usually means a quiet resignation. The first meeting with a solicitor is free of charge. Should you appoint a solicitor, you will receive an estimation of costs. Most will be around £500-£800, providing things do not get complicated. It will be the best £500 you have ever spent.

  5. It will doubtless get to the point of organising a Compromise Agreement and your solicitor will negotiate a lump sum of ‘hush’ money way over the amount of their bill. The most valuable input they will have is to ensure every stage of the process is being carried out lawfully. They are also able to link your situation with breaches in Acts of Parliament or the school’s own policy document.

  6. Do you have a copy of the school’s grievance and disciplinary procedure ? If not, do not proceed until you do. When you have this procedure, ensure it is being followed to the letter throughout the entire process because it probably will not be. Show this to your solicitor.

  7. Do not discuss this with any member of staff, no matter how friendly you are with them. Moral cowardice kicks in because people will be frightened of their own careers and will not want to be seen supporting you. This is not wrong, it is human nature. If they are brave and support you, they may be ‘warned off’ doing so. You will feel isolated and alone, but if you know this is going to happen, you are better prepared for it.

  8. Do you have someone to attend the first meeting with you ? You can take either your union representative or a colleague. Some people may not even be in a union, but do not worry. Join one straight away; they will not help you, but you can at least copy all of your letters to them. The union may have a hardship fund to help you with legal costs, even if you have only just joined.

  9. Request the form and fill it in. Be careful who you select, should you need a colleague to attend the meetings. You may have to ask a number of them, as they could say no. What you must bear in mind is that they now know what you are being put through, so they must understand that confidentiality is paramount. This need not be leaked at all. There will be witnesses and they may be biased against you, so if it becomes common knowledge around the school, ensure it is not because of you. If you have not found a companion, do not attend any interview until you do.

  10. Do not be afraid to refuse to answer a question put to you; neither should you worry about being unable to answer a question. You may be asked about something you cannot recall. Fine, say so. If you are unsure of a question, make notes to your companion. If you are still unsure, do not answer the question.

  11. Take your own minutes, preferably taken by your companion, and make notes yourself. Pass these on, with the minutes from HR or SMT, to your union and solicitor. Trust me, they will differ. Subtle changes in emphasis could mean the difference between you sounding frustrated and you sounding aggressive. Benign words or questions you have asked may be conveniently altered. For example, you could ask who supported the ‘aggrieved’ within the school. The investigators could ask you who suspect. You offer a few names as thoughts. The people may then be told you claimed they were supportive and how do they feel about that ? Emphasis changed, another person aggrieved. Do not accept the minutes until you agree with them. Then and only then, sign them.

  12. You will receive a copy of the grievance report and its findings. Ensure you agree with the accounts of your meetings. If you consider any part of the first report to be biased against you, allow your solicitor to write a letter to the school and refuse to continue in the process until you feel you are being reported on fairly and without bias.

  13. If a hearing is decided upon, ensure the reasons for this hearing are set in writing and are just. If you haven’t already, visit your doctor, because by this time you will not be able to eat, sleep or function normally, and listen to their advice.

  14. If you are suspended prior to the hearing, do not accept that you are unable to collect your property. Remember, this is staff against staff. If you have not committed an act of abuse towards anyone then why are you still there in the first place ? If you are suspended, contact your solicitor immediately and question the legalities of the suspension. If you are advised by your doctor to remain away from work at any point during the procedure, take that advice. Listen to your doctor. Do not struggle in because you fear the worst if you do not attend work. The worst has happened anyway.

  15. Do not resign before the hearing; you may be advised by SMT to do just that. Don’t, unless you are negotiating a Compromise Agreement you are happy with, via your solicitor.

  16. Do not be fobbed off with a promise of payment to the end of the term if you resign immediately. You may be tempted by the promise of an excellent reference and pay to the end of term. Do not accept it.

  17. If you do not agree with the outcome of the hearing, appeal against the decision. You should have fourteen days in which to do this. Talk to your solicitor. If the appeal is upheld, revisit your doctor and seek their advice.

  18. If you honestly believe you have been set up in any way, shape or form, submit a grievance against your school. Your solicitor will help you do this. Send it to the person responsible for all school governors within the LEA. If you send it to the school, the head teacher will doubtless open it.

  19. Sit back, take your doctor’s advice and leave everything up to your solicitor. By this time, their solicitor will be negotiating with yours. Wait for an outcome and trust your solicitor to get a fair result.

  20. If your solicitor suggests a tribunal, listen to them. Do not roll over and play dead. The more people act in this way, the less confident SMTs will be about using this system to get shot of you.
Stop worrying about future employers, your reputation, what others are thinking and, more importantly, stop any feelings of guilt. Concentrate on getting emotionally strong again and regaining your health. There is life after that school.

In order to continue raising awareness, people have to share accounts. Once the problems are widely recognised, current policy has more chance of being evaluated and positive change can be affected carefully but definitely.

The most important factor is to not get so ill that you lose your ability and your will to fight against what you believe is corruption. If you search your heart and still find what has happened to you to be unfounded in any shape or form, stand up and refuse to accept this miscarriage of justice. You will leave the school, but how you leave will determine your recovery.

It will mean the difference between you saying, “They broke me and I lost my job due to having to resign and then my career went.” and you saying “They tried to break me and the outcome of the Compromise Agreement was negotiated on my terms. I then had a break and got another job.”

Thursday, 28 February 2008

There Are Monsters

Newt:My mommy always said there were no monsters - no real ones - but there are.
Ripley:Yes, there are, aren’t there ?
Newt:Why do they tell little kids that ?
Ripley:Most of the time it’s true.
Aliens (1986)

There are indeed monsters and those now in my life are very alien !

I glance over my shoulder, looking back at people that I thought were my friends, professional working colleagues, and no longer recognize them. From my perspective, they are now shadowy demons - aliens who would now devour you in a blink of an eye, without regret nor remorse.

Paranoia ? Maybe, but I do not think so. It is very hard to acknowledge that so many people are not only superficial but they are weak, malicious and scheming - such traits are alien to me. The consequence is that is not only difficult but it is dangerous to extend any form of expression of friendship.

In the past, there was nothing that I would not do for another - and in return, they have done nothing for me.

They have become akin to the village angry mob with flaming torches in the dark - vengeful, hostile and cowardly.

Why ? They are frightened - they know that what has happened to me can happen to them. Their fear makes them all vulnerable, open to bullying and further intimidation by the head teacher and therefore they will betray you to protect themselves.

It is sad to realize that I have learned not to trust or believe in the faith and conviction of others - maybe I have just opened my eyes to the truth of the reality of the world ... there are monsters and they are everywhere !

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

British Stiff Upper Lip

We British are just terrible at complaining. It is not in our nature you know. Stiff upper lip and all that ? “Don’t want to ‘rock the boat’ old boy !” We grin and bear it. Often you will hear a British person say in a crowd “Sorry” - when someone else treads on their feet and the number of times that we say “Thank you” at a checkout !

We are getting better - well a little perhaps. At least when served poor food in restaurants, we are starting to complain - usually by being offensive and loud - no one has taught the British how to complain with dignity and respect. We are surprised when we do receive good service - then what do we do or say ? Express our appreciation ? No - we do and say nothing !

When it comes to poor goods, services and high rip-off prices we still have a long way to go ! Worse when you look at the government policies that we all suffer - we know that so much is morally and ethically wrong ... but what do we do ? “Keep calm and carry on.” - it is the British way you know !

Quiet resilience ? I think not. More like supine apathy and demoralization. Mediocrity, moral and financial dependency upon the state, criminal, anti-social and dysfunctional behaviour are the more usual characteristics of latter day Britain; smothered by layers of complacency and incompetence.

Remember the ‘Procedural Prison’ ? You are trapped by layers of policies, bureaucracy, a complacent acceptance that this is the correct way; it is established, legislated - “How dare you complain ! You are just a trouble-maker who wants to spoil our ‘game’”.

They have taken my life, my career, my future and my health. I have been subjected to 6 months isolation; my life has been put on hold; my family have been hurt and are suffering. It has cost me a fortune in every sense. I have evidence of collusion, coercion, fraud, victimization, bullying, intimidation and conspiracy. What gives anyone the right to inflict such torture on another human being ?

The answer is your school, LEA, DCFS and Government. In every response to the many letters that I have written, there is the overriding sense of complacency - realize that they have the freedom to break any and all of the rules with the comforting reassurance that you can take your case to either a tribunal or the civil courts ... if your health and bank balance permits it. So, the attitude is, if you persist then justice might be served in the end and after many months; by which time you will have lost everything that mattered.

It is the British way ! We have all suffered from this hindsight accountability process from time to time. It might be an invalid parking fine, billing error, bank error - these happen all the time; no one questions why - there is an acceptance that is the way it is and you can always trudge around filling in forms, writing letters and spend hours on the telephone after the event to try to recover your loss - with no expectation of an apology for that is an admission of liability. The fact is that most of us simply accept the injustice and can not be bothered to complain - “What’s the point ?” So keep a stiff upper lip, whistle, smile and carry on - be grateful that you are British and pay the price !

Advice ? Forget being British ! This is your life. You must fight for all that you are worth. Take control and keep control. Write to anyone and everyone - it might not help you but it might help the next teacher. As I said before; fight with honour and dignity and never ever give in and never ever stop - Don’t Quit !

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Castle Dracula

Bran Castle, a fortress in Transylvania, also known as Castle Dracula, owned by the former royal family of Habsburgs. The fortress was never actually part of the Dracula novel by Bram Stoker. However, Romania’s 15th century ruler Vlad Tepes who visited there, served as an inspiration for the author to write it.

School leadership in England and Wales is legally shared between the full-time head teacher and the part-time volunteers, the school governors. The responsibilities and statutory accountability of a school board of governors is not dissimilar to that of any company board of directors and many processes are identical. The salient difference is that they are volunteers and most have little relevant experience.

Why anyone would wish to become a school governor is a topic in its own right. Much of the literature focuses on the ‘public spirit’ - an altruistic wish to contribute to society. In reality, many choose to become governors for a whole range of less than charitable reasons; it looks good on a CV, training and experience and many for the simple reason that it sounds good and enhances their social status. They have little appreciation of their legal responsibilities and can end up defending their actions and activities in court.

In my past, I had been a teacher governor and up until now, I had never appreciated the impenetrable fortress that surrounds the power of a school board of governors. They are accountable to no one - a law unto themselves.

There is no doubt that the school governance system works and is an extremely cost effective solution and is used by many schools throughout the world.

Many studies have been commissioned over the years that analyze the ‘School Governance Model’. Some reports study aspects of ‘distributed leadership’, its benefits and shortcomings. In some cases, the governors are closely involved with the day to day functions and operations of the school whereas others remain remote, allowing the head teacher greater freedom to do his / her job.

The fundamental problem is that there is a complex and at times fragile balance of relationships between governors and head teachers. There is a reliance on the intrinsic integrity and strength of the governors; especially the chairman. There are two extremes that were identified that are counterproductive to the ‘best’ development of a school. One extreme is where the governors control the head teacher and others where the governors are divorced from the school and the head teacher assumes independent control, not only of the school but also governors.

The school’s inspectorate (Ofsted) is the only investigative agency that can identify leadership / management problems, during a ‘dreaded’ inspection. Ofsted’s prime focus is on the development / performance of the pupils and many schools pass an inspection even though there are considerable failings within the management systems.

Ofsted themselves are accountable to government. The government need accurate figures to demonstrate to the electorate that our education systems are working and are improving. It would seem that Ofsted might be pressurized into revising their own subjective criteria to provide more optimistic reports.

Most schools publish their Ofsted Inspection Reports on the Internet. It is interesting to identify key phrases from a report and then enter that phrase as a Google search ... it is surprising how many results are found ! Teachers are encouraged to produce pupil reports using phrase based software - click from a stock of standard templates; simple and mechanical. I suspect that Ofsted employ similar techniques and ‘cut and paste’ from existing reports - resulting in a report that contains little creative considered or objective content.

There is no way to break down the walls of the fortress that protect a school’s management structure - the horrors and torture continue without end and without hope of intervention ... everyone and all agencies have hidden agendas. You will have the blood and life sucked out of you and you will become one of the ‘living dead’ !

Up until the other day, I thought that my case was unique - there can not be many teachers in my position where there is evidence of conspiracy, collusion, fraud and intimidation.

I was really upset when I found the following two articles on the TES website. Note the British complacency of the responses from Joan Sallis; "Don’t forget the teacher will not always be blameless and the head will not always be prejudiced ! We must be fair." No one has been fair to me ... it is time to excise this cancer of apathy ... fight and kill this vampire, this thing of evil, horror and nightmares !

Facing disciplinary proceedings (05 December 2005)
Question: Not really a question but a comment on the teacher with the personality clash, facing disciplinary proceedings. Unfortunately, you cannot guarantee a fair hearing, especially with governors, as they will support the head. However, if you have positive proof that the charges are trumped up, then you can take the school to tribunal. That will ensure a fair hearing. Unfortunately, you only have three months from the date of the FIRST incident to make your application to the tribunal. Get yourself an ET1 (or IT1) and file it now. Make it a "blank" ET1, explaining that you feel there will be undue delay in the process initiated by your employer and that you wish to preserve your rights to file for a tribunal case. Go to the ACAS site, and to the TUC site to get more information. There are useful links and you can also contact the Citizen’s Advice to get information.

Sorry this person is in such a situation but having experienced the unfairness of the hearing process in schools, I certainly understand what this teacher must be going through. Unfortunately, it’s all too common nowadays.

Joan Sallis replies: Thank you for offering this correspondent such detailed and practical information and sympathy. I am sure it will be very helpful to her and I will e-mail the guidance bit to her (without identification of course) in case she misses it. I did advise her to think in terms of an industrial tribunal but not with all the helpful detail. But I cannot let your blanket assertion that governing bodies never give a teacher in difficulties a fair hearing go unchallenged, as I think it is extremely unfair. There are after all at least a quarter of a million governors! I have had a vast amount of contact with schools and governors over twenty five years or so, and though I would not deny that it is not easy for a panel to stand up to a dominant head, I would say that in the majority of cases governors charged with this difficult task carry it out fairly and honourably. Don’t forget the teacher will not always be blameless and the head will not always be prejudiced! We must be fair.

Collusion in sacking (06 June 2006)
Question: Although it might only be hearsay, what can one do if one finds that a head, some teachers and the chair of governors colluded to sack a teacher in the school in order to save money?

Joan Sallis replies: I assume you are talking about sacking and not redundancy which are different processes. If so I’m afraid hearsay doesn’t ever get you very far. More important however is the fact that the governing body and no-one else is responsible in law for dismissing a teacher. They would need to elect a special panel to finalise it, and the panel’s decision would be confidential, the detail even being withheld from the governors not on it. This may seem a technicality when a good deal of talk and investigation and maybe as you suggest gossip have already taken place. It may also ring a bit hollow if governors feel they have not had much real involvement, but the consequences remain. The same is true of appointments – even if a headteacher exercises the right to have no governors on an appointment panel, the governing body takes the responsibility for any problems which may arise later.

If either process results in a legal appeal – not unusual - it is the governing body which has to answer for it, but I’m afraid there will always be cases where no-one will have alerted them or spelled this out. Sometimes only the chair will have been included in the process. So if necessary it is up to us to protect ourselves by being vigilant and challenging any decisions which have appear to have taken our consent for granted.

It may be of course that formalities were observed but the evidence was considered by the governors involved to be cooked. This would have to be proved. Invoke your LEA if what you fear turns out to be the case. The big message is that apathy and inattention are dangerous and that sadly governing bodies themselves sometimes have to make sure that they are not dangerously marginalised in sensitive cases.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Back To The Future

"May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you’re going and the insight to know when you’re going too far."

In hindsight, my mistake was that I never found the strength to follow through with Grievance Procedure. For years, I fought each case, hoping that the bullying and victimization might diminish; but, like an abusive marriage, it was ongoing - re-occurring after periods of calm.

I came across an old BBC story that describes exactly the same scenario that I had been experiencing. I should have taken action ... you must not make my mistake !

Bullied teacher awarded £86,000
Tuesday, 18 November, 2003

A teacher who developed depression after she was bullied by her head teacher has won £86,487 in damages.

Margaret Menzies said she had been left "anxious and exhausted" before retiring early from Chalgrove Primary School in Barnet, north London.

Head teacher Valerie Hughes had been "rude, aggressive and intimidatory" towards staff, Judge Brian Knight told Central London County Court.

Ms Menzies, who has since moved to New Zealand, was also awarded costs.

“Drip, drip effect”

Judge Knight said: "Staff morale was low and Valerie Hughes was unapproachable, unfair in her dealings with the claimant and rude, aggressive and intimidatory in her dealings with the claimant, some children and parents."

He was also critical of the local authority’s senior primary schools inspector David Burns.

Though informed of what was happening to Ms Menzies and its impact on her health, he had failed to treat the matter sufficiently seriously, it was added.

Ms Menzies, 58, said "I suffered from the drip, drip effect of undermining, intimidating and unfair treatment.

There wasn’t a single big event but continuing dismissal of me as a professional, constant criticism of me behind my back."

“Couldn’t sleep”

"My every move was wrong in her [Ms Hughes’] eyes. She wanted me to leave, as 15 other people had in four years."

Ms Menzies added: "I got to the stage where I couldn’t sleep and I was losing weight.

I was anxious and exhausted and would freeze at the thought of going into school.

Sometimes when I went home in the evenings, I would go to bed immediately and stay there. It was the only place I felt safe.

I still can’t visit a school even though I am no longer teaching. I loved teaching. I never imagined this would happened to me.

But four years of being treated as useless, of being shouted at and accused of lack of professionalism have taken their toll."

Ms Menzies started work at Chalgrove Primary School in 1988.

Her responsibilities included being a class teacher, English co-ordinator, premises manager and a teacher-governor.

Ms Hughes was appointed as head teacher in 1997.

Within a year, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) was called by staff wanting to express their concern about the way she was running the school and treating staff.

By November 2000, only two teachers had been at the school for longer than a term.

Notes made by David Burns during a review of Chalgrove Primary said: "Teachers threatened - not allowed to talk to any members of staff - demoralized - harassed. Aggressive management style - threatening. Teacher not allowed to have day off for scan. Bullying style, blame culture from head teacher."

The teacher having the scan was Margaret Menzies.

Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary, said: "The court’s decision and the size of the award is a clear and strong message to local authorities and senior managers in our schools.

Bullying and intimidation of members of the NUT will not be tolerated. Ms Menzies was harassed and undermined in a concerted campaign by a head teacher.

She went on long-term sick leave in January 2001 and was granted retirement on health grounds in September of that year.

Ms Hughes resigned from the school in July 2001."

A Barnet Borough Council spokesman said: "This award relates to events that took place several years ago and the school has been under a new head teacher since 2001.

Much progress has been made and the school recently received an Ofsted report which commented favourably on the high quality of its leadership and management."

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Black Faeries

Sarah:Ow ! It bit me !
Hoggle:What’d you expect fairies to do ?
Sarah:I thought they did nice things, like granting wishes !
Hoggle:Shows what you know, don’t it ?
Labyrinth (1986)

“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now.”
John Lennon (1940-1980)

Young children generally are not incapable of maintaining a credible story of abuse. During interviewing and therapy, a child quickly learns what the interviewer (an authority figure) expects.

Answers are continually reinforced over a period of time and, in many cases, a child is rehearsed on their version of events. In many cases, a child comes to believe the allegation based upon the positive reinforcement they receive; inconsistencies in a child’s testimony are overlooked due to ‘trauma’.

A child’s memory is not similar to an adult’s in collecting and processing events. A child’s cognitive ability to understand events is significantly different than an adult’s. How a child internalizes events is different than an adult’s and results in significant differences.

Children are more suggestible than an adult. Young children believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc. Not only will the child appear credible when they talk about imaginary persons, they have been led and reinforced to believe in them. The same process can and does happen in regards to abuse allegations.

Behavioural Indicators are not accepted by most professionals as invaluable in determining whether a child has been a victim of abuse. There are no behaviors that are indicative of abuse. Behaviours cited by some so-called experts are attributed to a whole host of other things (equally competing hypothesis). In fact, several proponents of Behavioural Indicators have now reversed their views.

The difference between Credibility v Reliability is, credibility deals with whether the person appears competent to testify. Reliability deals with whether the person’s statements can be relied upon as being factual. A child witness can appear credible in their testimony, yet their statements may not be reliable because their statements have been tainted by outside sources such as the investigators, therapists and so on. A child could appear credible when they testify to the existence of the Tooth Fairy, yet we know the statement is not reliable. The same can and does happen in child abuse cases.

Your survival is based on your ability to educate yourself and take an active part in your own defence.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

CSI - Springfield

“Well, that’s odd ... I’ve just robbed a man of his livelihood, and yet I feel strangely empty. Tell you what, Smithers - have him beaten to a pulp.”

“I could crush him like an ant. But it would be too easy. No, revenge is a dish best served cold. I’ll bide my time until ... Oh, what the hell. I’ll just crush him like an ant.”

“What good is position if you can’t inspire terror in your fellow man ?”

“I thought I had everything - Money, good looks, strong, sharp teeth........But what’s it all worth when nobody likes you ?”

Mr. Burns:You’re fired.
Marge:You can’t fire me just because I’m married. I’m gonna sue the pants off of you.
Mr. Burns:You don’t have to sue me to get my pants off.

Springfield Nuclear Power Plant
US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
Disciplinary Rules - CMB/WS/003/08

The designated NRC henchman investigating officer is Mr. Waylon Smithers, Jr. assisted by Messrs. Carl Carlson and Lenford Leonard and the executioner presiding judge advocate is Mr. Charles Montgomery Burns, CEO.

SNPP Investigative Guidelines

The overriding consideration in the production of this report is that it will become subject to scrutiny by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the report must clearly and factually prove guilt. Any unsubstantiated content in this report might result in counter litigation and penalties imposed on Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.
  1. No consideration must be made of character and previous behaviour / performance; the report should identify failings and destroy credibility of the accused.

  2. All witnesses must be interviewed and statements prepared on their behalf. Witnesses must be encouraged to make supportive comments and these can be enhanced during the final production of the investigative report. If necessary, witnesses can be coerced into changing their account.

  3. Any hostile witness who attempts to support the case for the accused should be reported to the CEO and their statement be excluded from the report.

  4. No witness statement should be signed - it is important to preserve the freedom to ‘refine’ statements if necessary.

  5. Facts or evidence that contradict the allegation should be omitted. If it is not possible to omit such contradictions then it might be possible to ‘amend’ the facts - other options might include ‘reviewing’ the evidence or its accidental destruction.
These guidelines might, at first sight, appear draconian and unfair. They are not; it is far kinder to appreciate that, once the allegation was made, there could have been only one outcome - actual guilt or innocence has no relevance nor import.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Betrayal Of The Bystanders

Why do we feel so wronged by the people who believe a narcissist's lies about us ? There are a number of reasons but here is one of the biggest. It is because their credulity is not innocent. If a stranger believes some outrageous lie about us, we are not surprised and we do not feel wronged by them. But if someone who knows us believes that same lie, we feel betrayed. Guess why ? It is because they have betrayed us by believing that lie about us.

For example, if someone has known you for ten years, they see your track record of conduct for the last ten years. In other words, they have seen how you conduct yourself along this way of life we are bound upon. No, they do not see everything you have said and done; but they have seen a lot. They have seen you react to many various stimuli.

That track record of yours sketches your character in their eyes. This representation of what kind of person you are is based on your conduct (your words and deeds), not on mere hearsay about you. So no one should be able to come along and tell them just anything about you.

For example, if you are a gentle person, in ten years that will show. Many times. The people you interact with daily will see sample after sample of you reacting gently to things that most others would react more harshly to. So no narcissist should be able to come along and insinuate that you are violent. Likewise if you are honest. In ten years that will show. Many times. The people you interact with daily will see sample after sample of you reacting honestly to things that most others would hedge the truth about. So no narcissist should be able to come along and insinuate that you are a liar.

Likewise if you are sensible. In ten years that will show. Many times. The people you interact with daily will see sample after sample of you reacting sensibly to things that most others would show poor judgment about. So no narcissist should be able to come along and insinuate that you are crazy and imagining things.

To believe these things about you they have to unknow everything they know about you. That is, they have to unknow you. They have to revise history. They have to erase that track record of yours; and that track record is your life. They have to wipe it out. That takes your life. Which is why they call it 'character assassination'. Your whole life goes up in smoke; and a figment of the imagination is substituted for it ...

The narcissist's lie is always ironic. For the narcissist is out to smear one of your outstanding good qualities with the semblance of one of his own vices. So, the allegation is always preposterous. No one who knows you should be fooled by it; because it is not believable. They should know better; but they willfully do not because the lie is juicy.

And so, there is nothing like a narcissist attack to show you who your real friends are.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Unfair / Wrongful Dismissal

Unfair Dismissal - The current position in a nutshell

Recent statistics reveal that of the 86,000 cases brought before tribunals, 46% involved claims for unfair dismissal, making it the single biggest cause of action.

At common law, an employer can dismiss an employee whenever he chooses, whether he has good reason or not. The only criteria are that he gives the employee full notice and complies with the conditions of the contract. If these measures are followed, the employee has no remedy even where the contract is breached.

Employees will be relieved to learn that the law has progressed from the position above and currently incorporates the concept of ‘fairness’ into the determination of contracts of employment. The burden is now on the employer to demonstrate :

  1. He had good reason to dismiss.
  2. He acted fairly in dismissing.
  3. The general way in which he handled the dismissal was not unfair to the employee.
Is there a potential claim for unfair dismissal ?

There are three basic criteria that need to be satisfied for a claim of unfair dismissal :
  1. The employee must be an ‘eligible employee’
    The first port of call is whether a potential claimant is in fact eligible to claim relief under the Act. Section 94 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, states that every ‘eligible employee’ has the right not to be unfairly dismissed by his employer.

    Who is an ‘eligible employee’ ?
    An eligible employee will, as a general rule be an employee that has completed one year’s continuous employment in order to qualify to bring an unfair dismissal claim.

    It is worth noting however, that the answer above is over-simplistic; the question of ‘eligibility’ is a potentially complex one.

    It is important to understand that there are a number of exceptions to the one-year qualifying period that need to be considered. These exceptions do not require the employee to have completed one year’s employment in order to bring a claim for unfair dismissal. To illustrate this point, a non-exhaustive list follows :

    1. Dismissals related to trade union membership.
    2. Dismissals related to pregnancy, childbirth or maternity.
    3. Dismissals related to health and safety reasons.
    4. Dismissals related to part-time status.
    5. Dismissals related to enforcing the right to be paid minimum wage.

    On the other side of the coin, there are also are categories of employees who will not be able to bring a claim even after one year of employment as listed (non-exhaustive) below :

    1. Employees above normal retirement age.
    2. Member of the armed forces.
    3. Civil servants if national security is involved.
    4. Expiry of a fixed term contract. (Note : a person who has had a series of fixed term contracts of one year or over on aggregate may in some circumstances qualify as an ‘eligible employee’ and therefore be able to bring forth a claim for unfair dismissal.)
    5. Illegal contracts.
    6. Striking workers. (Note : an employee taking part in official industrial action can only complain of unfair dismissal if there has been selective dismissal of employees taking part in that action. If the employer dismisses all the employees taking part in the action, they cannot claim unfair dismissal.)

  2. The employee must have been dismissed
    The second criterion is that the employee must have been dismissed and his employment terminated. If the issue is in dispute, the onus of proof is on the employee to show that he has indeed been dismissed. This would be particularly relevant in the event of a constructive dismissal.

    What is constructive dismissal ?
    Constructive dismissal occurs when an employer commits a ‘repudiatory’ or serious breach of an express or implied term of the contract of employment. Contract is a sacred aspect of the English legal system and therefore the breach referred to above must be sufficiently serious to warrant the ending of a contract.

    It is important to realise that unreasonable behaviour by an employer will not of itself be conduct that is sufficiently serious to end the contract. However, if the unreasonable behaviour is sufficiently serious it may amount to a breach of the mutual trust and confidence between the parties which is an implied term in almost any contract.

    Examples of such a situation would be the failure of an employer to pay wages, or to unreasonably change the location of work so as to make the conditions of employment untenable for the employee.

    After the serious breach by the employer, the employee is then entitled to accept the employer’s breach and resign from his position. The contract is therefore discharged. It is important that the employee resigns in response to the breach of contract and should make this clear when resigning. If the employee does not make this clear in some circumstances, it may be evidence that he resigned for reasons that may not entitle him to treat himself as constructively dismissed.

    It is vital that the employee accepts the breach within a reasonable time of the repudiation. If he does not, he may be taken to have affirmed the contract and thus lose his right to an unfair dismissal claim.

  3. The dismissal must have taken place unfairly
    The onus is on the employer to show that the dismissal is for one of the five permitted reasons below as defined by the ERA 1996, s. 98.

    It is for the employer to establish the only or principal reason for the dismissal, and it must fall within the following :

    1. Relating to the capability or qualifications of the employee.
    2. Relating to the conduct of the employee.
    3. That the employee was redundant.
    4. That the employee could not continue to work in the position held without contravening some statutory provision; or
    5. There was some other substantial reason justifying dismissal of the employee.

The concept of ‘fairness’ explained

It is also important to note that it is not only dismissal for an unfair reason, which gives an employee the right to claim unfair dismissal.

The conduct and manner in which an employer dismisses an employee is of paramount importance. This is because a dismissal can and will amount to an unfair dismissal in the eyes of a Tribunal if the manner in which the dismissal was handled is unfair. For example, if an employee is not consulted and/or given a fair chance to improve the dismissal may be found to be unfair.

The current law requires an employer to carefully consider the options before him prior to terminating a contract of employment. It is important to note that there are situations in which an employer is entitled to summarily dismiss, i.e. dismiss an employee without any notice. This would be in cases where the employee is guilty of gross misconduct such as stealing or selling confidential company information. In these situations, the employer can simply ‘fire’ an employee without any notice.

What happens once an employee is found to have been unfairly dismissed ?

The remedies available are :
  1. Reinstatement
    A solution provided by the Tribunal where the employee has his previous position returned to him.

  2. Re-engagement
    This occurs when the employee starts a different job with the same employer, his successor or an associated employer. In practice however, the remedies described at 1. and 2. above are rarely ordered by Tribunals.

  3. Compensation
    Compensation is the most common remedy awarded by Tribunals, and is considered in two parts : the basic award and the compensatory award.
The basic award

The basic award has a theoretical maximum of £8,700, but is calculated according to a rigid formula that only rarely reaches the maximum amount by applying a formula based on length of continuous service (years), the appropriate age factor and one week’s pay.

A maximum of 20 years employment can be taken into account when calculating the basic award. A week’s pay may not be higher than £290 but cannot be lower that the national minimum wage.

The age factor applies to the calculation as follows :
  • For each complete year of employment working backwards from dismissal that the employee was aged 41 and over he receives one and a half week’s pay.

  • For each complete year of employment working backwards from dismissal that the employee was aged between 22 and 41 he receives one week’s pay.

  • For each complete year of employment working backwards from dismissal that the employee was aged below 21 he receives a half week’s pay.
The basic award will be reduced if :
  • The tribunal considers that the employee’s conduct before dismissal justifies a reduction.

  • The employee was within a year of age 65 at the effective date of termination.

  • The employee has unreasonably refused an offer of reinstatement from the employer, or has unreasonably prevented the employer from complying with an order for reinstatement; or

  • The employee has already been awarded or has received a redundancy payment; or

  • The employee has been awarded any amount in respect of the dismissal under a designated dismissal procedures agreement.
The basic award can be expressed mathematically as :

Basic award = [years of continuous employment] x [age factor] x [weekly pay]

The compensatory award

This award compensates the employee for the loss suffered as a result of the dismissal insofar as the employer is responsible for this loss. As well as covering the loss of earnings between the dismissal and the hearing and an estimate of future loss, the tribunal will also consider matters such as loss of pension, other rights and any reasonable expenses incurred by the employee as a result of the dismissal.

The compensation awarded may be reduced by the tribunal if, for example, it is found that the employee was partly to blame for the dismissal or that the employee has not tried to find another job in the meantime.

The compensatory award is difficult to predict and is intended to compensate the employee for financial loss and often involves the inexact science of calculation of future earnings. It is currently subject to a maximum award of £58,400.

Time limit for bringing a claim for unfair dismissal

An unfair dismissal claim must generally be presented to an employment tribunal before the end of three months from the date employment ended (otherwise referred to as the ‘effective date of termination’ or ‘EDT’).

There are means by which this time limit can be extended, most commonly by following a grievance procedure. This is a complicated part of the law surrounding unfair dismissal and it is therefore always best to act on the advice of a trained employment lawyer.

Wrongful dismissal

Wrongful dismissal is a common law concept. It is simply another name for a dismissal in breach of contract. The most common example of this is the failure to give employees the contractual notice they are entitled to when the circumstances do not justify instant dismissal.

Wrongful dismissal is most relevant in cases where employees are entitled to a long notice period or to a particularly valuable remuneration package. Wrongful dismissal is therefore particularly relevant if the employee is in a senior position, due to the large amount of compensation that can be recovered from the employer for the breach of contract.

Wrongful dismissal can also occur when the employee is constructively dismissed (see note on unfair dismissal for explanation of constructive dismissal).

However, an employee can be dismissed summarily in situations where the employer is entitled to treat the contract as discharged, and dismiss the employee without notice. This will generally occur in serious circumstances such as where an employee is found to be stealing money, selling trade secrets or behaving in a manner equivalent to gross misconduct so that the reasonable response on the part of the employer is to dismiss that employee instantly.


There is no statutory limit to the amount of damages a Court can award for wrongful dismissal, though Tribunals are limited to a maximum award of £25,000.

Time limits for wrongful dismissal

High Court - An action must be brought within six years and there is no upper limit on the level of damages which may be awarded.

Tribunals - The action must be brought within three months of termination. This limit can be extended at the discretion of the Tribunal and through the use of the appropriate grievance procedure.

General Advice

Unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal are totally separate concepts. Thus, a dismissal may be either unfair or wrongful, both unfair and wrongful, or neither.

The obligation to ‘mitigate’ the loss

The employee is under a duty to mitigate the loss of his employment and the consequences that follow. Once employment is terminated, the employee must take steps to obtain suitable alternative employment. This includes accepting reasonable offers of re-employment.

Unfair and wrongful dismissal : Where does one bring the claim ?

Currently, the ordinary courts have no jurisdiction to hear unfair dismissal cases. However, since 1994, Tribunals have had jurisdiction to hear both wrongful dismissal claims as well as unfair dismissal claims.

It is important to realise the significance of Tribunals having a limit of £25,000 on the amount of compensation that can be awarded for wrongful dismissal. The result of this is that the most sensible route for a claimant may be to pursue an unfair dismissal claim before an Employment Tribunal and a breach of contract (wrongful dismissal) claim before a County Court or the High Court.


As a general rule, no costs are awarded in employment tribunals. This means that bringing a claim in an employment tribunal is relatively risk free as far as legal costs vis a vis Tribunals are concerned.

Unlike most cases held in Courts, costs are not generally awarded in employment tribunals. It is prudent to note that tribunals do have the power to award costs if they deem it necessary in the circumstances.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The Wall - Pink Floyd (1982)

Pink : I’m waiting in this cell because I have to know... have I been guilty all this time ?

Pink : Is there anybody out there ?

Mother : [singing] Hush now baby, baby, don’t you cry. Mother’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true. Mother’s gonna put all of her fears into you. Mother’s gonna keep you right here under her wing. She won’t let you fly, but she might let you sing. Mama will keep baby cozy and warm. Ooooh babe, ooooh babe, oooooh babe, of course Mama’s gonna help build the wall.

Prosecutor : Good morning, Worm, Your Honour ! The crown will testify that the prisoner who stands before you was caught red-handed showing feelings. Showing feelings of an almost human nature. This will not do.

Judge Arse : [disgusted] The evidence before the court is incontrovertible, there’s no need for the jury to retire ! In all my years of judging, I have never heard before someone more deserving of the full penalty of law !

The social engineering goals of British education may have served a specific need at a specific time and in this light may have been ‘well-intended’. The industrial society is gone and so is the need for the kind of human being this system was designed to produce. But the intent imbedded in the original design remains and, like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, keeps grinding out the same kind of human being year after year.

Traditional parenting and educational models assume that children must be trained in certain skills, embody certain information in order to become productive citizens, which is a nice way of saying, “to get a good job”. This translates into curriculum, standards, tests and grades; measurements to ensure that the assembly line is producing properly.

Standardized curriculum and ‘teaching to the tests’ create industrialized human beings which are increasingly out of date in today’s fast changing world. Reformers tinker with the conveyor belt, starting children earlier each year. Play time, games, physical education, art and music have been decreased, making room for more tests and drills. Despite these efforts the assembly line falls further behind. Large scale social institutions can not meet the demand. They can not adapt fast enough.

Visionaries have long proclaimed that the system can not be fixed. Educational reform, like recycling, is a bad idea that looks good. Recycling is a bad idea because it promotes the manufacture, use and disposal of wasteful toxic products. A deeper response would be to create products that are not toxic or wasteful. Reform is not the answer. The time has come for a deeper response to parenting and to education.

We are faced with a breakdown of general social order and human values that threatens stability throughout the world. Existing knowledge cannot meet this challenge. Something much deeper is needed, a completely new approach. I am suggesting that the very means by which we try to solve our problems is the problem. The source of our problems is within the structure of thought itself.

Our traditional factory-conditioning model of education values content and asks: “Did we get it right ? What is our score ?” Every evaluation implies a degree of failure. This potential failure is implicit in every learning experience.

The very structure of factory model implies anxiety, a relative degree of defensiveness as we approach each new challenge. Failure is built into the system, which cripples learning and performance.

Only by following intelligent, adaptive, creative, learning adults, something our present systems discourages, will our children develop the capacity to lead humanity into a sustainable future. Developing competent adult learners, passionate individuals who are learning explosively right alongside the children they love, this is the next frontier.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

CSI - Miami

David Caruso (About his character Horatio Caine) : “He’s not a corruptible man, and I think that we’re searching for people to believe in and he is a man that has demonstrated on a very consistent basis that he will not be sidetracked, he will not be poisoned and he will not step back off the ethics that I think people need to have in our civil servants. We want to believe, that the people that represent us in the world, the glue of society, are people that are real and are as pure as possible.”

Once the police have dismissed your case then the school has the right to pursue its own investigative process and to proceed with a Disciplinary Hearing. I leave it to you to consider the relative skills sets between those of a police DC with 30 years of experience and a head teacher - unless your head teacher is like Horatio Caine !

According to ACAS; the investigative process and report should follow these guidelines :

If you have been accused of abuse your employer has a duty to investigate any allegations that have been made against you, or to ensure that an independent investigation is carried out into them. You should always keep in mind that you may have a contractual obligation to co-operate with the investigation - unless for legal reasons - you have been advised not to do so.

Most employers will have written procedures for investigating complaints and/or abuse allegations. You should always examine them at an early stage of the process. If you do not have them to hand ask for them well before you make a response to any questions asked of you.

Check to make sure that the ‘investigative stage’ is separate from the ‘hearing stage’. You have a right to be heard at each stage of the procedure. Normally the employer will appoint an investigating officer to look into the complaints made/allegations received.

Typically the investigating officer will be your manager or a specialist worker. Unless the investigating officer has been given a special brief their job, usually, is to consider whether or not there is prima facia evidence of misconduct.

The investigating officer is obliged to carry out his/her investigation impartially. They must examine the issue from both sides. This means that they must look for facts which support the complaint/allegation, and look for facts which contradict the complaint/allegation. In addition they must demonstrate that they have done so. It is not sufficient for them to examine the position from the complainant’s point of view and simply ask the accused for their comments about what has been alleged.

The investigative officer has a responsibility to ask searching questions of both sides. (S)he must also look for witnesses or evidence that would support both sides of the case. If the accused asks them to interview a particular person or to examine a particular piece of evidence they must do so unless they can give a good reason why they should not.

In summary the investigating officer should:-
  1. Act impartially.

  2. Write to the accused person setting out in broad details what has been alleged, by whom, and in what context and time-frame.

  3. Give reasonable notice of any investigative hearing(s) that may be necessary so that the accused person can take legal advice and begin to prepare their defence.

  4. Allow the accused person to be accompanied at any investigative hearing which may take place. This will usually be a trade union official or a colleague.

  5. Neither presume guilt or innocence.

  6. Be thorough and searching in their inquiry.

  7. Keep accurate notes and, within an agreed time span, provide each party with details of their response to any questions asked of them.

  8. Inform the accused of any evidence which the complainant relies on.

  9. Take an evidential approach to the investigation, and examine the facts.

  10. Look at the issue from both sides and evidence that they have done so.

  11. Not preempt any future hearing by pronouncing guilt. (guilt can only be determined at a full hearing after the defence have made their case.)

  12. Complete the task with the minimum possible delay.

The DfES define their code of investigative practice in this document :

Circular Number 10/95 - Appendix

Your LEA will have their own practice guidelines and in my case, they are defined in this document (refer : Annex 1) :

Handling Allegations of Abuse Against Staff

Good faith should be your guiding principle. Remember that all investigations must be conducted in good faith (in other words, without any preconceived intention to ‘get’ a particular individual). Even if you mistakenly discipline an innocent person, you should be able to avoid legal liability if you conducted the investigation in good faith.

Equal treatment. Fair and consistent treatment of all employees is critical with respect to investigations. Remember that the goal of a proper investigation is not to build a case against any particular employee(s). The key question in an investigation should be : “What happened ?” rather than “Who is at fault ?” Consequently you will likely have to review and revise your investigation procedures as you go along.

Focusing your investigation on what happened rather than who was at fault is particularly important to keep in mind if other employees in similar situations did not have their actions investigated. Inconsistent treatment could be used as proof that a person was chosen for discharge or other adverse employment actions for unlawful reasons.

When workplace misconduct is not investigated consistently, the organization may not be able to defend itself if faced with a grievance, complaint or litigation. The lack of consistency might be used, for example, to show discriminatory intent, to show that the organization doesn’t have employee relations programmes, or to show that the organization acted in an arbitrary fashion.

You can see that the fundamental ethos underpinning the investigative process and report production is that it should be impartial and fair - collating facts / statements that neither seek to prove nor disprove the allegation - that determination is reached by the Disciplinary Committee and is based on ‘balance of probability’.

Later, I will detail aspects of my head teacher’s investigative report and the methodologies that were applied in another blog - needless to say, the above guidelines were ignored !

Balance of Probability

The Standard of Proof required at all stages of the Committee’s decision-making process is the civil standard, ‘on the balance of probabilities’. The ‘balance of probabilities’ standard means that the Committee is satisfied an event occurred if the Committee considers that, on the evidence, the occurrence was more likely than not. The more serious the allegation, the less likely it is that an event occurred and hence the stronger the evidence needed before the Committee concludes that the allegation is established.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Broken Promises

Child Protection Information Pack
Lancashire LEA Child Protection Service 2004 Annex 3

Support for Staff During a Period of Suspension

The support described in this Annex is applicable to staff during a period of suspension or during a period of leave of absence/medical absence when these are alternatives to suspension.

It is recognised that there is a need for management, both at the school and Authority level, to provide some means of support to staff who are the subject of allegations of misconduct at work, or who have been suspended for alleged misconduct under the School Disciplinary Procedure. In such circumstances the member of staff involved may experience feelings of worry and depression; they may also feel isolated from their workplace and colleagues.

It is important that staff are made aware of what is happening in relation to the disciplinary investigation, as lack of information may also lead to further stress and ill health. In addition, it must be understood that the allegations may have placed the member of staff in a difficult situation in relation to his/her family.

In my case, the above recommendations have been ignored; as were the following :
  • At the time of my suspension, I was denied a representative.
  • The LEA never appointed a designated contact officer.
  • The school never agreed a designated link person.
  • I never received counselling support.
  • I never received any progress / review information.
  • I was denied all contact with colleagues.
  • All social contact with school was denied.
In short, the LEA and school have failed to honour their obligations to me as required by the legislation relating to suspension.

Consultation with ACAS and other legal advice concluded that the LEA and school are technically in breach of Employment Act 2002 (Dispute Resolution) Regulations 2004. The problem is that no action can be initiated until I am either dismissed or resign; only at that time can I start legal action.

It is frightening to realize that your employer can choose to ignore all policies applicable to this case and that I can only take retrospective action.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Anger Management

You will experience a wide range of emotion over the months; depression, frustration, disgust, isolation, paranoia, fear, anxiety and anger. I will tell you now that without the strength of my loving partner, I would never have survived. He has kept me on track and focused - not once has his commitment faltered. My situation has strained our relationship but together, we have shared laughter and heartache.

Coping with a false allegation of assault on your own - you can not ... you need a friend or family member to support and listen, just someone to be there.

You must fight, stay healthy and never ever give in ! Angry ? Anger is my overriding emotion - I want to hit back and hard at the injustice of what is happening - serving a 5 month sentence like this is inhuman !

I have never hated before - it takes effort to hate but I loathe and condemn those who are involved with my nightmare. All the time, I picture scenarios in my mind - meeting my head teacher in Tescos, seeing his car parked in the town ... could I really attack him or damage his car ? No ! These things only bring you down - you must behave correctly in all that you do - believe in yourself and your actions.

My partner uses his anger as a source of power - plan positive support options and follow them through ... write to MPs, LEA, DfES, Ofsted and any other agencies. I found that most letters were answered and most simply reinforced the view that I was trapped by procedures and policies - they could do nothing but I could sense in the tone of some letters their own personal disgust ... but remember, they too are trapped by their own ‘Procedural Prison’ ! Keep writing though, you never know without trying and somewhere out there you might just hit a ‘sensitive nerve’.

Anger might drive you into the arms of the press. I have consulted some of the national papers - my story is newsworthy but you must be very careful. Your motives to disclose information to the press must not be malicious - there will come a strategically advantageous time to consider publishing - but, for me, the time is not yet.

Positive ideas that worked for me :

  • There is a limit to what your partner or friends can take - journaling helps dump much of my emotion and keeps life a little more in perspective. When I felt really low, I expressed all my feelings in e-mails that I then posted off to the LEA’s HR Department - sort of a mindless distraction ... they are duty bound to respond and it provides a little satisfaction to know that someone in the ‘system’ is forced to share your suffering.

  • The LEA should have provided me with access to their counselling service - like every form of support that I was supposed to receive it never materialized but it is worth asking your LEA.

  • Blogging ... this was a relatively recent idea and it is helping me. No one should have to suffer in this way. If I can help just one person through this process then it is more than worthwhile. Considering that there are hundreds of teachers who have been falsely accused of assault, I question where are they ? ... there is so little information on the Internet. It is not easy to write, all the time I have to suppress my anger to create objective and constructive advice and comment.

The Starfish Thrower
This short story now exists in hundreds of variations such as that below, based on one originally written by Loren Eisely and first published by Readers Digest in 1991. It illustrates the same principle in 1 Cor. 4-6: you are unique, and even apparently small things you do are of eternal significance.

I awoke early, as I often did, just before sunrise to walk by the ocean’s edge and greet the new day. As I moved through the misty dawn, I focused on a faint, faraway movement. I saw a boy, bending and reaching and waving his arms – dancing on the beach, no doubt in celebration of the perfect day soon to begin.

As I approached, I sadly realized that he was not dancing, but rather bending to sift through the debris left by the night’s tide, stopping now and then to pick up a starfish and then standing, to heave it back into the sea. I asked the boy the purpose of the effort. “The tide has washed the starfish onto the beach and they cannot return to the sea by themselves.” he replied. “When the sun rises, they will die, unless I throw them back to the sea.”

I looked at the vast expanse of beach, stretching in both directions. Starfish littered the shore in numbers beyond calculation. The hopelessness of the boy’s plan became clear to me and I pointed out, “But there are more starfish on this beach than you can ever save before the sun is up. Surely you cannot expect to make a difference.”

He paused briefly to consider my words, bent to pick up a starfish and threw it as far as possible. Turning to me he simply said, “I made a difference to that one.”

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Guilty ?

I realize that after some 15 blogs that I have not talked much about my case. Am I guilty ? With the exception of the police and maybe you the reader, no one else cares - no one asks; and remember the nightmare ? ... by default you are guilty !

My case ? Over the coming weeks, I will detail the allegations that were made and the evidence of victimization, conspiracy, collusion and coercion - I am sure that your case will not be as bad as mine - I hope not !

It would be unwise and unethical of me to reveal too much at this stage; my case is ongoing and, although no one else seems to have behaved honourably, I need to protect and preserve my own dignity and my own values.

Suffice to say that I am not guilty - I did nothing ... let me say that at its best, those around me were mistaken ... at its worst, I was framed by colleagues who were coerced by my head teacher.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Life In The Balance

“I would prefer to be treated as a criminal in a Crown Court than sit before my head teacher and his interpretation of justice !”

I have previously described my police interview and that this has been the only occasion when anyone has asked me about the events of the 26 & 27 September 2007.

Remember that the police are trained, skilled and experienced in their job. They can detect even minor deviations from the truth - that is what they do and they do it well. As an experienced teacher, I can tell much about my children - almost by sixth sense ... the police have those same skills - so again I remind you ... tell the truth, be open and frank - it will be the only time that you will be availed this opportunity, unless your case does progress to the Crown Court.

In so many ways now, I wish that my case had ended up in a Crown Court. The police knew that I was not guilty and they commented on the fragility of the key witness’s statement - they suspected that I was being victimized but it is not their job to investigate beyond the case submission criteria of the Crown Prosecution Service.

My case was dismissed on the grounds of ‘Insufficient Evidence’. This is a very broad category - and neither proves nor disproves guilt. It is a less than satisfactory outcome; but remember that the police know in much more detail the probability that you did not commit the allegation.

The CPS operate on the principle of ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ - that is the cornerstone of the British judicial system. The police investigative process must meet this objective - but their internal processes are also founded on the principle of ‘balance of probability’. The police can quickly reach a solid conclusion but then they must be able to provide the supportive evidence - and many times this is not possible.

(It is difficult to appreciate - the police can become your best friend; so keep a note of the names of the officers / detectives who were involved. In my case, I kept in contact with the police and they are outraged by the behaviour of the school; so much so that they will be in attendance at my future hearing.)

What happens next ? You might be led to believe that the worst is over after the CPS dismiss the case - but no, the pressures continue. The school has to now follow protocols and you are notified that you will face a Disciplinary Hearing. The initial phase of this process necessitates an investigative process, organized by your head teacher ... instead of your fate being determined by a judge and jury - mine is now in the hands of a florist - Chair of the Disciplinary Committee !

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Part Of The Union

Oh, you won’t get me, I’m part of the Union,
You won’t get me, I’m part of the Union,
You won’t get me, I’m part of the Union,
‘Til the day I die,
‘Til the day I die.

The Strawbs (1973)

Sadly those days have long gone - unlike most professions today, a teacher has no other agency that can provide support. The LEA possess a wealth of expertise in so many fields; law, welfare, human resource - but that is not available to you - without your union support, you are really out in the cold !

I hope that your union can help and provide the support that you need. You must keep control - remember that this is your life - if they get it wrong, it will be a mistake that will last forever.

Understand that this is a partnership, founded on trust, faith and commitment. Make certain that good communication is established and maintained throughout the proceedings.

Realize that you are about to have your career taken - years at university / college and years of experience are about to become worthless.

In my case, that is 30 years of teaching. I still had another 10 years until retirement - £350,000 npv plus enhanced pension - remember that is what is being stolen - and that makes no allowance for the destruction of your health. Your character will be blemished, flawed - CRB records are permanent - even if you are cleared, your records remain - police and CRB - and, worst case - you might face a jail sentence !

My union failed to support me. Their initial response was procedural - they could not offer any advice until I had received and returned forms - rules are rules ! Later they told me that suspension was a neutral act and that I should view it as a paid holiday ! I asked so many questions and received no answers :

“What happens if / when I get arrested ?”
“A solicitor will meet you at the police station.”
“Can I speak to him now ?”
“No, only at the police station.”
“Do you have any literature ?”
“No !”

It was all so matter of fact. “We deal with hundreds of these cases every year.” This is a terrible indictment - it is outrageous that a union should be so complacent that it allows this moral outrage to continue. Worse too when you consider that it is happening to you - do you care and does it help to know that there are hundreds of other teachers in the same position ?

In the end, I was forced to seek support from a firm of solicitors. I was advised to look for firms possessing specialist knowledge of the education systems rather than approach local solicitors. Later, as my case moved towards disciplinary action then I needed legal representation from Employment Law specialists.

I did make two more attempts to gain support from my union - just before my first hearing. This representative made enquiries and recommended that he should be permitted to negotiate severance terms ! That was good - not guilty - but let us all lie down and die !

Be wary of the fact that your union representative will be well known by the LEA and possibly your school. I sensed that the LEA have their ‘favourites’ - in many ways, it is like an ‘old boys’ club and I could picture them as ‘drinking buddies’ - not what you want when your life is on the line !

The second contact was even worse - he trivialized all that I had been through and the actions that I had taken. So, despite the costs, I will be represented by a professional and I feel much easier within myself.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Catch 22

“There was only one catch and that was Catch 22, that specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of the clause of Catch 22 and let out a respectful whistle.”

“The enemy, is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on... And don’t you forget that, because the longer you remember it, the longer you might live.”

It is a tragedy that our society places less and less faith in the moral responsibilities and duties of its citizens and an ever increasing reliance in policies and procedures. I look at my reception children and it is hard to appreciate that many of them come from such difficult homes. Many children are unable to relate to one another – they do not know how to laugh and have fun. Other children have been denied love and care – they do not know how special and important they are as individuals.

Over the years, the ever more stringent legislation to ‘protect the child’ has become a barrier that prevents natural interactions of life to be encouraged. Human contact is essential; a hug, holding hands – these reassurances and demonstrations of care, affection and love are vital for the development of the whole person.

False allegations of assault, removes the freedom to touch, to comfort and to reassure. I soon realized that, even if the charges / allegations were dropped, that I could never have the freedom to enjoy and encourage these spontaneous demonstrations of care – the merest touch might be construed as assault – even sexual assault … I ask where is society going ? To deny a suffering, distressed child a warm cuddle – is that not a crime ? What message will they inherit ? - Society does not care – only the rules have any import … little wonder that our society is failing and continues to rebel !

As my children learn and develop, it is amazing to watch their personal skills and regard for one another grow. In my class, we have a teddy, Roxanne; each child is allowed to take Roxanne home with them and they relate visits and experiences that they have shared to the class. In many ways, like the Velveteen Rabbit, Roxanne becomes a ‘real’ member of the class and even wears a school uniform and participates in events - here she is as ‘paramedic bear’. The children find great comfort from Roxanne and are quick to pass her into the arms of a child in distress (or sometimes to a teacher !).

Within a few weeks of my suspension, I realized that life would never be the same – eyes of suspicion would always be present, my confidence is gone and the trust in other colleagues no longer exists. You will never know your enemies for everyone is now a threat. You have to accept that your career, inspirational hopes and new ideas for the future have been taken and destroyed.

I now find that there is a stark reality – the ultimate Catch 22. If I fight to win my case then ultimately I must, by definition, lose. For it is a hollow victory – you can never recover what has been taken and to return to an environment of suspicion and mistrust is not an acceptable option. If I lose my case – then what ? Life must go on – not easy but at least there is a conclusion an end to my suffering and anguish. I worry about personal finances, losing my home and many other related aspects of my life – but remember, for months you have had no control over your destiny – now, even though there will be difficult decisions, at least you are now free to face new challenges and opportunities – there is life after teaching !

Tuesday, 12 February 2008


Living ? Let me make this plain - you do not live anymore; you survive, day by day !

When I was suspended, my family was recovering from the recent death of my dear father. At the time of his death, I could not conceive of anything worse - but I was wrong !

The British Education System has taken my life and soul. For 5 months, I have survived whilst my life remains on hold - no future plans can be started and there are no pleasures anymore.

We had an October half-term holiday booked in Spain; it was a disaster - I just wanted to be at home. Then Christmas was cancelled; as was a planned New Year break.

There can be no escape, no respite from the prison that now traps you - no matter what you do or where you go, your mind remains full of feelings of bitterness, resentment and anger. The frustration is unbearable - if someone would just listen then they would understand and know that the allegation was false ... but there is no one.

The only advice that I can suggest is to keep busy. On good days, I spend several hours at the gym which does help. There is a joke in my family about me not knowing what the kitchen is for; but I find that cooking has become a good therapy - at least, I am eating healthily !

So do not let anyone ever lead you to believe that suspension is a neutral act - it is a nightmare; a nightmare that will leave scars for the rest of your life !

Monday, 11 February 2008


You will need a good, caring GP to look after you. Teaching is stressful - but this torture is beyond anything imaginable.

For the first few weeks, I could do nothing but cry; I still do. My sleep patterns remain irregular and I often wake up from nightmares - usually a courtroom setting.

Within a couple of weeks, I noticed that I could not recollect words which now causes me to stutter; more pronounced when I am tired. Extreme fatigue is a problem plus nausea for much of the time.

My GP prescribed anti-depressants and tranquillizers. I suffered various side-effects for a while and I now take Sertraline and Diazepam daily. There is no doubt that they work but I now feel, most of the time, that my head is either stuffed with cotton wool or that there is an iron bar stuck through my mind.

Binge eating becomes a problem and my weight has increased as a consequence. I have avoided alcohol - it reacts badly with my medication and resorting to alcohol as a palliative friend would be the end for me.

So you must see your GP - I see mine now about once a fortnight; he is so reassuring and calls me ‘Princess’ !

The rest of your family will be impacted by your situation. My partner, who has taken most of the load for these months, has been forced to start a course of anti-depressants and he is often awake at night.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

The Procedural Prison

You must realize that as soon as you have been suspended most communication channels are closed. It will be difficult to talk with your head teacher or any of your colleagues. There is an investigation underway and the last thing that they need is you ‘contaminating the crime scene’ - in my case, the head teacher is more than able to not only contaminate the evidence but he can add to and alter events. Weeks will pass by and no one will tell you what is happening - you might be told that a strategy meeting is scheduled but you never discover what that means or its significance.

I explored all sorts of possible support contacts - there are really only two ... your school and the LEA. You start to realize that no one is there to support you. The LEA will tell you that they are there in a purely advisory capacity for the school. The truth is that they are there to ensure that the policies and procedures are followed and that the Employment Act is obeyed - it is a cold, inhuman process.

Suddenly the light will dawn - you are alone - you have entered the world of the ‘Procedural Prison’ and you are being swept along the various paths of a procedural flowchart where no one will accept accountability nor responsibility for you.

I wrote to the Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP and he said that I was experiencing “the effects of burgeoning bureaucracy and the consequent loss of personal responsibility and ‘common sense’”.

Your very heart will want to explode - you want to tell someone that you are not guilty and to relate your story - but no one wants to know and no one cares anymore. You have to wait until you arrive at the appropriate point in the flowchart - in my case, that is now 5 months !