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School teacher who claimed she was bullied wins unfair dismissal case; Nina Sydenham had claimed there was 'a culture of fear' at Alderman Davies Church in Wales Primary School.

Byline: Nino Williams

A former teacher who resigned from her post after alleging staff were being bullied has won a claim of unfair dismissal.

Nina Sydenham had worked at Alderman Davies Church in Wales Primary School inNeathfor almost 20 years before being suspended, after appearing as a witness at a grievance hearing for a colleague.

She subsequently handed in her notice.

An employment tribunal held atSwanseaMagistrates' Court earlier this year heard Mrs Sydenhamhad raised 'serious concerns' about the school's managementunder head teacher Collette Matchett, and claimed staff had become afraid of her 'aggressive approach'.

Mrs Sydenham, fromBaglan, alleged constructive dismissal after supporting a colleague, Chris Williams, at his grievance hearing.

After the hearing, Mrs Sydenham had collected evidence of what she felt was happening to both herself and other staff, which she sent from her own school email account to her home email address, which she shared with her husband - but the move prompted her suspension on the grounds she had breached data protection, sparking a subsequent investigation, and her resignation.

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The tribunal has now released its findings on the case, and concluded Mrs Sydenham was unfairly dismissed, and also that she had been whistle-blowing on matters in the public interest, in 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: "It is clearly the case that 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 mindeven at an early stage', and no real consideration had been given to alternatives to suspension.

It added: 'In our judgment Mrs Matchett was focusing on the claimant alone and any checking of others was cursory'.

The tribunal had also heard from the school's chairman of governors, Sheila Coleman, who said that while preparing a report on the investigation, the school had relied on a document as policy which was actually a policy for local authority staff, which made six recommendations as to the claimant's potential gross misconduct.

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But under cross examination, Mrs Coleman said she did not know whether this policy had been adopted by the school governing body, whether any of the staff had seen the policy or whether the claimant had seen or had any training in the policy.

The judgement also questioned the level and quality of training given to staff on IT and data protection matters

They wrote: "In our judgment Mrs Coleman saw her role as a prosecutor and her approach to the investigation was to find evidence which demonstrated the claimant's guilt and not to properly explore evidence which might excuse her conduct.

"In this regard we consider that Mrs Coleman was overly persuaded by the initial documents prepared by Mrs Matchett and the letter sent to her asking her to investigate."

Mrs Matchett was also criticised for not permitting Mrs Sydenham to speak to other members of staff, even after she had been dismissed in 2016.

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The tribunal had also heard evidence relating to an appeal hearing following Mrs Sydenham's suspension, but concluded: "Overall the tribunal gained the impression from [school governor] John Rawlinson that he and the panel were out of their depth in dealing with these matters.

"The panel was attempting to be decent and fairbut was more concerned with decorum than with the technicalities of process and the detail of evidence. What we are clear about is this had nothing to do with the disclosures that the claimant had made."

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 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.

"For the record, 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 remain committed to maintaining the highest standards of safeguarding for our pupils.

"We will continue to focus on providing the best environment for our children whose educational outcomes and wellbeing are our number one priority".

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Nina Sydenham had worked at Alderman Davies School for almost 20 years
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Publication:Wales Online (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 27, 2018
Words:966
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