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Kerry Eastman

HR Advisor - Uckfield

4th October 2021

Teacher who allowed pupil to stand in ‘haunted’ cupboard unfairly dismissed

Case Study: Teacher who allowed pupil to stand in ‘haunted’ cupboard unfairly dismissed

Background

Mr A Mohammed Basit, a Maths Teacher, had been employed by Pleckgate High School, a Community School based in Blackburn, since 2012.

On 10 January 2020, Mr Basit was teaching a class when he noticed that a pupil (Pupil A) wasn’t engaging. Using his normal teaching techniques, Mr Basit asked Pupil A to stand at the back of the classroom beside a cupboard. In his light humour, he joked that Pupil A should get inside the cupboard and, to Mr Basit’s disbelief, Pupil A entered the cupboard which was previously referred to as haunted. Mr Basit asserted that he entertained it for a short period, but soon removed Pupil A from the cupboard as it was clear he wasn’t going to leave himself.

After class, Pupil A and two other pupils who had also been subject to Mr Basit’s teaching techniques went to the Head Teacher, Mark Cocker. They said that Mr Basit forced Pupil A into the cupboard and provided written statements

On the morning of 13 January 2020, Rob Hamilton, Deputy Head, approached Mr Basit and asked him to make a statement concerning his version of events. Mr Basit was asked to wait in the staffroom and was not permitted to return to class. He was then called into a meeting by Mr Cocker and Ms McGonagle, HR Operations Manager, who suspended Mr Basit pending an investigation.

During the investigation stages, thirteen pupils provided statements to Mr Hamilton and Aishling McGinty, Safeguarding Officer, about the lesson.

On 17 January 2021, Mr McGonagle invited Mr Basit to an investigatory interview during which Mr Basit added that he’d recalled Pupil A laughing from inside the cupboard and commented, “it’s actually quite cosy there” as Mr Basit removed him from the cupboard.

Ms Robinson, Assistant Head Teacher, transcribed the investigation notes noting that Pupil A was 14 years old and 5’7” (173cm) tall, stating that it would have taken Mr Basit considerable time and effort to get Pupil A into the cupboard. That said, Ms Robinson concluded, on the balance of probabilities, that it was likely that the incident had been as the pupils had recounted.

On 14 February 2021, Mr Basit attended a disciplinary hearing with Ms McGonagle and Caroline Howarth, Head of HR, which was chaired by Jonathan Georgy, School Governor and Disciplinary Officer. During the hearing, Mr Basit said that the investigation was unfair due to shortcomings and inconsistent accounts provided by other pupils. On 5 March 2021, Mr Basit was informed that his employment was terminated due to gross misconduct. Mr Basit appealed against his dismissal claiming that Pupil A’s behavioural records should have been a mitigating factor however, his appeal was not upheld.

Decision

The Employment Tribunal decided that Mr Basit had been unfairly dismissed. It found a number of flaws in the School’s disciplinary process. It was said that Mr Basit was not aware of an investigation at the time when he was asked to make a statement and was not warned by the school about the potential outcomes during the investigatory stages.

The Tribunal acquired an astonishing 1,705 behaviour record entries of four pupils, including Pupil A.

The Tribunal found that Mr Basit made a remark to Pupil A in jest as he found himself at the back of the room so often.

The Tribunal commented  that the extremely harsh sanction of gross misconduct dismissal was not within the band of reasonable responses, nor did Mr Basit’s actions amount to gross misconduct.

What does this mean in practice for employers?

Employers should always follow a full and thorough Acas-compliant disciplinary procedure. It is just as important however, to pause such a procedure where further information comes to light that requires investigating.

Establishing all facts before making a final decision is imperative to a fair procedure to achieve a fair finding.

Do you need some advice on disciplinary procedures? Say no more, the GatekeeperHR team is here to help. GatekeeperHR is a fixed cost, employment law and HR retainer service which provides businesses with access to a dedicated team of experienced lawyers and HR professionals who you can speak to, or meet face-to-face, at any time. The service includes a full HR compliance audit, access to an online portal full of valuable employment law and HR resources and an annual training session on topics of your choosing. To find out more about GatekeeperHR, please contact our Employment and GatekeeperHR Team or call 01825 744 413. Alternatively, you can browse the GatekeeperHR website, sign up for a free trial or download our brochure by visiting www.gatekeeperhr.co.uk.

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