Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Hindsight

“The wisdom of hindsight, so useful to historians and indeed to authors of memoirs, is sadly denied to practicing politicians.”

Margaret Thatcher (1925- )

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I provided my statement to the head teacher at a meeting on 13 Dec 2007.

I had believed that I was to be interviewed following the completion of the investigative process. The police had dismissed my case on 19 Nov 2007. The following day, 20 Nov 2007, I was contacted by Lancashire County Council’s HR manager who informed me that the school were to invoke disciplinary action; the first stage of which would be an investigation by the head teacher.

It was natural to believe that, by 13 Dec 2007, this investigative stage would have been completed. This was a mistaken presumption on my part. In reality, the head teacher had done nothing for some three weeks.

When I provided my statement, in good faith, I had provided him with a focus and target. The head teacher then embarked on an ‘investigation’ that set out to demolish my statement.

The main argument in my defence was that I had been sitting at a child’s circular table, 55 cm in height and 120 cm in diameter, at the time of the allegation; the little girl had been sitting on the opposite side. I had been seated on a child’s green chair, 30 cm in height, with my legs extended under the table. This is far from comfortable but it is necessary to work at the same level as the children.

The fact is that I could not reach across the table. I know from experience that I have to use rulers, pencils, etc., to allow me to reach a child’s workbook from the other side.

One evening, the head teacher and the two witnesses were observed by a colleague, entering my classroom where they played ‘slapsy‑wapsy’ across the table. I believe that it became evident to them that it is extremely difficult to reach whilst sitting on a child’s chair.

No matter, the evidence can be changed and the two witnesses claimed that I had been sitting on a stool, 60 cm high. Now, apart from the fact that I never use a stool, I would not be able to reach the table surface to help the children. Again, this problem was overcome by introducing a portable whiteboard.

So, my defence was thrown into question by two witnesses who now concurred in their statements that I was sitting on a stool using a portable whiteboard.

The key witness, a teaching assistant, had been using the same lesson plan as me, a Teddy Worksheet, that did not necessitate additional teaching support – certainly not a portable whiteboard. She had been sitting on a child’s chair. Why on earth would I then have to be seated on a stool ?

When I received the head teacher’s investigative report in January 2008, I could not believe that the nursery nurse, whom I had known for some 20 years, would lie ... but she did !

I discussed the head teacher’s report with the police. None of the officers could recollect mention of a stool or whiteboard during their investigation. Attempts were made to recover the archived evidence / statements but the Data Protection Act prevented this and I only succeeded in obtaining my own interview recording.

In hindsight, I should not have provided the head teacher a detailed account or explanation. In the absence of my statement, he might have carried out a fairer and more impartial investigation ! But ... he could not have done for other reasons ...



From the appeal hearing transcripts :

Barrister: Your role as investigating officer – how did you understand your role ?
Head Teacher :I was only involved in the investigation from 20th November 2007 because prior to that it was a Social Services S47 investigation. Once I had contacted personnel and the child protection team to clarify what I should do.
Barrister:It wasn’t a question about when you started but what was your role.
Head Teacher: My role was to ascertain what had happened based on the information I obtained on 26th – 27th September.
Barrister:So it was a fact finding exercise to present info to disciplinary committee ?
Head Teacher:My advice from personnel was to speak to witnesses and present a report based on what I found and what I believed had happened on 26th September. Hence when I did speak to people I believed that Mrs Watts had smacked E... T..... on the hand and my report reflected that – before submitting my report – I did talk to personnel / with VW about what was my role in the investigation process.
I have never been involved in anything like this before – people who know me would know that I would take advice from child protection / personnel.
Barrister:For the record you are saying personnel advised you to say what you believed to have happened ?
Head Teacher: I am basing my beliefs on what I found out.
Barrister:You are saying personnel advised you to come up with what you believed had happened ?
Head Teacher:Mr W is here. That is what I was advised to do.
Barrister:Did they tell you anything else. Did they tell you to be fair and objective in the way you investigate ?
Head Teacher:Told to find out what the witnesses said and write down what I believed.
Barrister:You mentioned lots of occasions you asked advice did anyone tell you to carry it out in an objective sense ?
Head Teacher:I know this and do not need to be told this.
Barrister:As you gave evidence you felt no resentment for Mrs W at the date of this incident ?
Head Teacher:Correct.
Barrister:Your words no resentment ? If you did feel any resentment you couldn’t have carried out a fair investigation could you ?
Head Teacher:I didn’t have any resentment.
Barrister:If you had a fall out etc., you couldn’t carry out a fair investigation could you ?
Head Teacher:My responsibility as head teacher is to carry out fair investigation.
Barrister:You told us you carried out the investigation in a fair and objective fashion and had no resentment. If you had resentment you wouldn’t have been able to carry out a fair investigation.
Head Teacher:It is a hypothetical question – no resentment.
Barrister:Would you agree that if you had issues with Mrs W you shouldn’t have been the person to carry out the investigation ?
Head Teacher:It isn’t the case – no resentment.
Barrister :Perhaps the difficulty you are having in answering this is you seriously disliked Mrs Watts at the time ?

Asked by barrister to note the question was not answered.

Barrister :Let me jog your memory to December 2004 event when Mrs W gave a speech.
Head Teacher:I think you are referring to December 2003.
(Refer : Anonymous Text)

I had experienced ‘episodes’ with my head teacher over years - the ‘Anonymous Text’ was just one of many.



During the summer term of 2007, I became unfit for work and was signed off ill due to stress through work. I was seen by Lancashire County Council’s occupational health therapist, M....... B..... on several occasions. I told her in some detail about the relationship problems that existed between myself and the head teacher. She noted my comments and said that she would mention my concerns to the HR department.

At my final session with M....... B....., she said that due to the time that I had been off from school that I would be ‘phased’ back into my fulltime role at school. She said that she would discuss this with the head teacher and HR to organize a ‘back-to-work’ meeting.

Towards the end of August 2007, whilst on holiday abroad, I received a text message from the head teacher telling me that a date had been arranged for a meeting with him and VW, a Lancashire County Council HR manager.

I was petrified by the very thought of sitting in such a meeting and decided to ring M....... B..... for her advice. I expressed concern that there might be recriminations from the head teacher. She was more than aware of these problems from my previous meeting with her. When I told her that a ‘two-against-one’ meeting would be intimidating especially from my previous experiences, she realized that I had not been informed of my right to be accompanied by a friend. She agreed to raise the matter directly with VW.

In the end, I decided it would be simpler to speak directly with VW, he was after all a skilled professional HR manager and felt sure that he would have some words of wisdom. I described the history and stressed the fact that I did not want any reference made to these workplace problems during the meeting as I did not want to open old wounds but wanted my phased return to be a fresh start and to please respect the confidentiality of our discussion.

He said that he could not comment as he was an advisor to schools and not teachers. He added that if I was having problems with the head teacher then I should discuss them with my union.

(He did not respect the confidentiality of our conversation as he brought this matter up at the meeting !)



My barrister made it clear at my hearing that if there were ‘bad feelings’ that might be prejudicial to an investigation then another investigator should be appointed.

The head teacher denied that there was such a situation. Clearly there was and he should not have been permitted to execute such an undertaking.

Lancashire County Council knew that there was an ongoing problem - both the occupational health therapist and the HR manager were aware of the relationship issue. But at my hearing, when asked by my barrister, the HR manager denied any knowledge of the problem. (This dialogue was omitted from the transcripts.)

I conclude that Lancashire County Council failed to act reasonably by allowing the head teacher to complete the investigation knowing that there was mutual resentment between us.

It is of grave concern that a Lancashire County Council HR manager who knew about the issue should deny all knowledge at a hearing.

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