A recent Supreme Court judgment has confirmed that a school’s governing body acted fairly in dismissing a Headteacher following her failure to disclose an association with a convicted sex offender.
The Headteacher, Ms Reilly, became friends with Mr Selwood in 1998 and together they bought a house as an investment property. Mr Selwood lived at the house and Ms Reilly occasionally stayed there overnight but they did not have a romantic relationship.
At the beginning of 2009, Ms Reilly applied for the headship of a school. Soon after, she was present at the house when Mr Selwood was arrested on suspicion of having downloaded indecent images of children. He was convicted and given a 3 year community order in February the following year. Ms Reilly did not disclose this to the school either during the application process or following her appointment as Head in September 2009. Her friendship with Mr Selwood continued and in April 2010 they went on holiday together.
When the school discovered her close relationship with Mr Selwood and his conviction they decided to suspend Ms Reilly on full pay pending an investigation into her conduct. A disciplinary process was followed and she was ultimately dismissed for gross misconduct having failed to disclose her friendship with a convicted sex offender. The school was also concerned that Ms Reilly continued to deny that her connection to Mr Selwood was a risk to the children.
Ms Reilly made a claim for unfair dismissal against the School. She argued that she was not under any duty to disclose her friendship with Mr Selwood and that she should not have been dismissed for having failed to do so. The school alleged that Ms Reilly should have known she had a duty to disclose such a close relationship, especially given her status in the school and her responsibility for safeguarding. The Supreme Court agreed with the school and found that Ms Reilly’s actions had warranted her dismissal.
What does this mean for schools?
It can often be difficult for schools and those sitting on disciplinary panels to make a decision where the allegations relate to safeguarding risks. They find themselves having to balance the employment rights of staff with a need to prevent a serious incident occurring in the future. This can often seem like a no win situation. If they dismiss they face an unfair dismissal claim, if they don’t they could be exposing pupils to potential harm.
This case may assist when carrying out the balancing act. It is clear that each case will turn on its facts and factors such as the seniority of the member of staff, their responsibility for safeguarding and their exposure to children will all need to be put into the mix.
You may wish to consider taking a proactive approach and asking staff to notify, perhaps on an annual basis, of any matters of this nature with failure to disclose having a potential disciplinary consequence.
How Nelsons Can Help
Laura Evans is a specialist Education and Employment Law Solicitor at Nelsons.
If your school requires assistance with disciplinary issues or any other aspect of managing your staff, please contact Nelsons’ Education team on 0800 024 1976 or contact us via our online form to find out how we can help.