“Whistleblower” fairly dismissed, tribunal finds after ten-day hearing

A lengthy hearing in the East London Employment Tribunal has resulted in vindication for an academy that defended claims by one of its former teachers that it had dismissed him because he was a whistleblower.

The teacher had worked for Moulsham High School Academy Trust in Chelmsford since 1991 and became a staff governor of the school in 2010. In the course of his duties as a governor he raised issues over some matters that he considered may be putting the school in breach of financial, legal or other obligations, and the Tribunal found that in several of these matters he had legitimate concerns about governance and had potentially made protected disclosures.

However, in parallel with that process, the teacher also fell foul of his obligations towards his students and was found by the academy to be guilty of malpractice in the preparation of GCSE coursework, for which he was given a final written warning. His relationships with the senior management team deteriorated and he was dismissed for what is described in the Employment Rights Act 1996 as “some other substantial reason” – in this case, the complete breakdown in working relationships.

The teacher had become so entrenched in his view that he was correct that he refused to accept any alternative views, even after his complaints and grievances were investigated and appealed in a thorough process taking some two years. He also made repeated and unreasonable demands that the academy pay him a substantial six-figure sum to settle the disputes he had with them.

Ultimately the Tribunal found that it was reasonable for the academy to conclude that the breakdown in the relationship between the teacher and the academy’s senior leadership team was the teacher’s responsibility. The Tribunal found that his dismissal had been fair.

The case illustrates the numerous hurdles that a claimant has to overcome in order to succeed in a whistleblowing claim. It is not enough to show that a claimant has made a protected disclosure – he must then demonstrate that detrimental treatment was meted out to him as a result of being a whistleblower and not for another reason. In this case the academy had perfectly good reasons for the action it took against the teacher and did not treat him in detrimental fashion because he had made protected disclosures.

Moulsham High School Academy Trust was represented by Catherine Urquhart