Teacher who told Ofsted naughty kids were hidden from inspectors wins unfair dismissal claim

·4 min read
Ged Thomas was sacked by Berwick Academy, in Northumberland, after he posted critical comments about the headteacher on Facebook. (SWNS)
Ged Thomas was sacked by Berwick Academy in Northumberland after he posted critical comments about the headteacher on Facebook. (SWNS)

A whistleblowing teacher who revealed naughty children were kept out of sight on squash courts during an Ofsted inspection has won a claim for unfair dismissal.

Ged Thomas was sacked by Berwick Academy in Northumberland after he posted critical comments about the headteacher on a local newspaper’s Facebook page.

The PE and maths teacher had also contacted Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, to tell them unruly pupils were hidden from inspectors during one visit to the school.

Headteacher Alexis Widdowson resigned before the publication of the damning report, which labelled the academy as “inadequate” – the lowest of four grades.

A tribunal heard she had been at "loggerheads" with Thomas but that she had left the school by the time he was dismissed in 2018.

Employment judges have now ruled that Thomas was unfairly dismissed following the school's “deeply flawed" internal disciplinary investigation.

The panel also concluded that making the negative social media comments had not been an "indication of any disloyalty”.

Berwick Academy in Northumberland is a mixed school which caters for 472 pupils, aged between 13 and 18. (Google Maps)
Berwick Academy is a mixed school that caters for 472 pupils aged between 13 and 18. (Google Maps)

The 44-page judgement said the school's codes of conduct on social media use and whistleblowing was “so complex it was inevitable there would be disagreement on whether they were complied with fully”.

The employment tribunal heard Thomas blew the whistle to Ofsted over allegations troublesome pupils had been “hidden” while he was on sick leave in January 2018 after he received text messages from colleagues and parents saying certain pupils had been removed from lessons to the squash courts out of sight of the inspection team.

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The judgement said: “Hiding children from Ofsted inspectors would almost certainly amount to concealment of information which tends to show relevant failures.

“That for him was the last straw. He formally raised his concerns to Ofsted through their online school teachers portal, whilst sitting in his car.

“These clearly were protected disclosures. He later received requests for further information from Ofsted and the DfE (Department for Education).”

The academy claimed the social media posts, which it judged as derogatory or offensive, were “the sole reason for dismissal”.

Teacher holding tablet explaning to students in classroom
During a monitoring visit to the Academy in 2019, inspectors noted “significant improvements were still necessary”. (File Image) (Getty Images)

Employment judge Tudor Garnon said: “The respondent has not proved on the balance of probabilities the claimant was guilty of gross misconduct because any breach of lawful and reasonable instructions was not an indication of his disloyalty to, or wish to harm, the academy as such.”

Judge Garnon upheld claims for wrongful dismissal, unfair dismissal, compensation for untaken annual leave and breach of contract relating to missing property.

Claims over unlawful deductions of wages were dismissed and compensation is expected to be determined at a later hearing.

After the judge’s decision was published, Ged Thomas told Chronicle Live: “I’m reasonably pleased to have won my case for unfair and wrongful dismissal and to have been vindicated for speaking up and blowing the whistle about the situation at Berwick Academy.

“The school should never have been allowed to get in this position.”

The employment tribunal heard Mr Thomas blew the whistle to Ofsted over allegations troublesome pupils had been “hidden” while on sick leave in January 2018.
The employment tribunal heard Thomas blew the whistle to Ofsted over allegations troublesome pupils had been “hidden” while on sick leave in January 2018.

Yahoo News has approached Berwick Academy for comment but they had not replied at the time of publication.

Donna Goddard, chair of trustees at Berwick Academy,told Chronicle Live: “We are disappointed with the Employment Tribunal's decision that Mr Thomas was unfairly dismissed, particularly in view of its findings regarding his high degree of contributory fault towards his dismissal.

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“The allegation that children were hidden in squash courts during an Ofsted inspection in January 2018 was subject to an extensive internal investigation once it was brought to the Academy's attention some time later. There was no evidence to substantiate this allegation.”

During a monitoring visit to the Academy in 2019, inspectors noted “significant improvements were still necessary” while acknowledging that “positive measures had been implemented”.

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