Tuesday, 1 April 2008

You’re Fired

I received my notice letter from the LEA this morning. There in black and white :

“The seriousness of your actions, the distress caused to the child and your lack of remorse for your actions mean that the Committee do not feel able to take action short of dismissal. The Committee have determined that your actions constitute gross misconduct and have brought about a fundamental breach of the trust and confidence that the School is entitled to place in you. Therefore, we have resolved that you would be dismissed from school with immediate effect, without notice or payment in lieu of notice.”

Well there is no doubt there ! 30 years of dedicated and committed teaching exploded before me - discarded like last week’s rubbish - without care, understanding nor compassion.

Fair ? ... No ! Impartial ? ... No ! Angry ? ... Yes !

They talk of my lack of remorse ... oh, yes, I forgot it is the ‘British Way’; apologize when there is no fault and look sorry !

My fate had been determined and sealed 6 months ago. It no longer mattered who was lying or what actually happened. It had been a sham all along. The Committee and LEA never bothered to even read my statement. They extracted only those elements that supported my guilt - in their letter they say :

“We also note that your statement at that time made no reference to the possibility that you had slapped the table rather than the child.”

My statement contains :

“The task that she had was relatively easy and in order to regain her attention, I tapped the table in front of her. There were pencils, papers, books, etc. on the table and I probably tapped those resulting in the sound. She was not upset at the time and finished her work.”

They conclude in their letter :

“Having considered all the evidence available, we believe that on the afternoon of 26th September you momentarily lost control of your temper and slapped the child.”

Is there a difference between ‘slapped’ or ‘smacked’ ? The allegation had been that I had smacked the child on the hand. Bearing in mind that this event occurred across a 120cm diameter table surrounded by other children, it is difficult to imagine how it was possible !

I have been in teaching for 30 years. I am a mother too and, like every other parent, I have experienced a whole range of related emotions. Not once have I lost my temper or responded inappropriately in anger. If I had lost my temper with a child then I would not wait to be sacked ... I would have failed as a mother and a teacher and would resign !

“We have considered carefully both accounts of the suspension meeting and whilst we believe that the head teacher did make you aware that the allegations related to the child, we do accept that you should have been informed of your right to be represented at the outset of the meeting.”

In the head teacher’s investigative report, he states that, at the time of my suspension, he had told me the precise nature of the allegation and the name of the child. He also said that he had described the stages of the process and that there would be an initial ‘strategy meeting’ that would comprise the school and social services.

The fact is that he lied about this event. The purpose being to discredit my honesty – he had denied me my right to be accompanied and could now freely add conversation that never took place.

By some considerable good fortune, I remembered that I had spoken with the LEA HR department on 17 October 2007 and that I had a recording of the conversation :

Me:When do I actually find out ... um ... what I am supposed to have done ? And who I’m supposed to have done it with ‘cos I haven’t had .....
LEA HR:Right OK, so if the investigation progresses, dependent on who’s carrying that out, if it’s referred back to the school then you’ll be invited into an investigation meeting and all of the detail of that will be conveyed to you.

The reason for the call had been to inform me that a scheduled ‘strategy meeting’ had been postponed.

Me:What’s a ‘strategy meeting’ ?
LEA HR:The ‘strategy meeting’ is where the ... uh ... social services, the police and ourselves attend the meeting to determine what ... uh ... course of action is due to take place next.

I would not have asked these questions if the head teacher had already communicated this information to me as is claimed.

(This had been the first and only attempt by the LEA to keep me informed about the progress of my case.)

The letter ends :

“The Committee hope that you feel you had a fair hearing and would like to assure you that they thoroughly considered all of the information presented prior to and during the hearing, in coming to their decision.”

Hoping that I felt it to be a fair hearing is not the same as knowing that they gave me a fair hearing ! Assuring me that they thoroughly considered all of the information is not the same as knowing that they thoroughly considered all of the information !

By their own admission in this letter, they omitted to notice such a key element of my case - I said at the hearing that I slapped or tapped the table, as does my statement ... they were not thorough ... but should I have expected anything better ?

The LEA were keen to cover their failings :

“We were concerned by your statement that no one with the exception of the police, had ever asked you to relate in your own words the events of 26th September 2007. We are satisfied that the disciplinary investigation meeting held on 13th December was convened in order to allow you to do so. We note that you took external advice and chose not to use this opportunity, preferring to submit a written statement.”

They might have been satisfied but I was not. My mental state through stress and medication makes it difficult for me to focus my attention. I was scared at the thought of this meeting of 13 December 2007, especially as there would be only my head teacher and his LEA representative present.

The LEA HR already knew from earlier unrelated meetings that I felt intimidated by the head teacher and that it would be especially stressful for me to be in his company.

The purpose of the meeting was not clear from the procedural documentation. I wanted to be able to relate my account without interruption and asked the LEA if that would be the case. They replied :

“The purpose of the meeting is in order for you to be able to respond to the allegation that has been made against you, this is covered in section 3.3 of the disciplinary procedure. Following the meeting it is proposed that a statement is made on your behalf and this then forms the basis of your response.”

It is clear that the purpose of this meeting was for the head teacher to interrogate me from which he would produce my statement. There was no way that I could cope with a grilling by my head teacher and I already had a very detailed statement - why therefore should I want someone to reinterpret my account ?

So on 13 December, I gave my written statement and added that they could contact me if there were any queries that had not been covered.
(The suggestion that I provide my own written statement did not originate from ‘external advice’ but directly from a senior LEA HR manager !)

I never heard from anyone over the next 3 months !

My mistake was that I provided too much information in my statement. I had explained in some detail the reasons why I could not have assaulted the child. This provided the head teacher with a clearly defined target to discredit my account - I should have kept quiet !