Primary teacher wins her claim of unfair dismissal.
AFORMER teacher who resigned from her post after alleging staff were bullied has won a claim of unfair dismissal.
Nina Sydenham had worked at Alderman Davies Church in Wales Primary School in Neath for almost 20 years before being suspended, after appearing as a witness at a grievance hearing of a colleague, and subsequently handing in her notice.
An employment tribunal held at Swansea Magistrates' Court earlier this year heard that Mrs Sydenham had raised 'serious concerns' about the school's management under head teacher Collette Matchett, and claimed staff had become afraid of her 'aggressive approach'. Mrs Sydenham, from Baglan, alleged constructive dismissal after supporting colleague Chris Williams at his grievance hearing.
After the hearing, Mrs Sydenham collected evidence of what she felt was happening to her and other staff, which she sent from her school email account to her home email address, which she shared with her husband. The move prompted her suspension on the grounds she had breached data protection rules, prompting a subsequent investigation and her resignation.
Employment judges have now released their findings on the case, and concluded Mrs Sydenham was unfairly dismissed. They also found she had been whistle-blowing on matters in the public interest over the way the school was being run.
However, her claim of public interest disclosure of detriment was dismissed by the panel.
In their ruling, the judging panel said it took the view that "the perception of some staff would have been that she [Collette Matchett] would have been unapproachable with issues", and that it did not appear from staff meeting minutes that there had been "any indication of staff training on the meaning and application of data protection".
They also wrote: "...The claimant [Mrs Sydenham] viewed the matters involving Mr [Chris] Williams and fear in the school as being of greater than personal importance.
"In her witness statement she sets out her broad concerns about the problems that the atmosphere in the school, as she saw it, was leading to general problems in the school, involving such matters as the discipline of children. We have no doubt that these concerns were genuine."
The judgement said Mrs Matchett "did not approach matters with an open mind, even at an early stage", and no real consideration had been given to alternatives to suspension.
Mrs Matchett was also criticised for not permitting Mrs Sydenham to speak to other members of staff.
The tribunal also noted that it heard evidence relating to an appeal hearing following Mrs Sydenham's suspension, but concluded that it "...gained the impression from [school governor] John Rawlinson that he and the panel were out of their depth in dealing with these matters."
Mrs Sydenham is now waiting for a remedy hearing to be listed, in addition to another detriment claim.
Next month, the school faces another constructive dismissal claim by Mrs Sydenham's colleague, Chris Williams.
A spokesman for Alderman Davies Church in Wales Primary School said: "Whilst the finding of unfair dismissal is disappointing, the basis of the finding relates to what the Judge concluded were deficiencies in the school's staff disciplinary procedure.
"The disclosures referred to in the judgment do not relate in any way to issues concerning the safety of pupils.
"No finding was reached by the tribunal either way as to whether the disclosures made were true.
"The school denies the issues complained of in the claimant's disclosures.
"As the school has maintained throughout, and as confirmed by the tribunal, the claimant was not placed at any detriment by the school because of the disclosures she had made.
"The school will carefully consider the findings and will continue to take legal advice as to appropriate next steps. As has always been the case, we ... will continue to focus on providing the best environment for our children, whose educational outcomes and well-being are our priority."
<B Alderman Davies Church in Wales Primary School, Neath