Back in November 2010, I ran a piece observing that the former head-teacher of Henry Fawcett Primary School, James Walker, had launched an unfair dismissal claim against Lambeth Council and the school's executive board for his dismissal in November 2008 shortly after he returned from work following a battle with cancer.
Mr Walker was dismissed from his job as head-teacher on account of allegations of bullying and harassament from a staff member (Penny Bermingham), who was found by the Employment Tribunal not to be a credible witness. Last Tuesday (2nd August 2011), Mr Walker (who represented himself) won his case, but the Evening Standard is reporting that he is giving up teaching and moving away from London.
The case was heard at the Employment Tribunal Court in West Croydon, and the Tribunal considered Mr Walker to have been treated with an approach that "bordered callousness".
Mr Walker had worked in education in the Borough of Lambeth for 18 years (both as a Deputy Head and Head teacher), but the Tribunal found Lambeth Council had painted him in the most damaging light. Mr Walker reported to the Tribunal that Lambeth had undertaken actions such as clearing his office, destroying his files and failing to specify their allegations agaisnt him. The tribunal noted that Lambeth had failed to act impartially. Mr Walker submitted that he was threatened with disciplinary action if he refused to resign the day after his first CT scan.
The judgement (Walker v Lambeth) accepted Mr Walker's evidence that he had not been aggressive towards Penny Bermingham. A former staff member observed, "I witnessed Penny to be cruel during James's absence, humiliating staff and attempting to make them feel insignificant and worthless."
Beyond the injustice that was perpetrated upon James Walker, there is the matter of the effect upon Henry Fawcett school, which was taken out of special measures in June 2010. Mr Walker said, "...Experienced and talent teachers have left, parents have lost confidence and needy children have been neglected. It is a disgrace that Lambeth has used public funds to push me out of my job and I hope the actions of those responsible for this waste will be thoroughly investigated’".
The experienced teacher had previously been enjoyed a successful role at Lambeth, having been placed in charge of the Children's Centre attached to the school in 2005. Indeed, his success in raising achievement at Henry Fawcett had previously been praised by the executive director of Children and Young People’s Services, Phyllis Dunipace and former secretary of state, David Milliband.
Unfortunately, by February 2009, Ms Dunipace wanted to remove Mr Walker from his post, and, it has been alleged in a press release issued by the family, commissioned a strategy for so-doing.
Interestingly, Ms Dunipace retired from Lambeth Council in summer 2010. Penny Bermingham remains a teacher at neighbouring Ashmole Primary school in Oval.
One can only hope that Lambeth Council has measures in place to ensure that no case like this one can recur. Nobody appears to have been painted in a particularly positive light, and Mr Walker is said to be leaving teaching and leaving London. Our local children deserve better.
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