Monday, 8 August 2011

Former head teacher James Walker wins unfair dismissal claim against Lambeth Council

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.


Anonymous said...

James is a huge loss to teaching. As parents who has a child at HF we know what a difference he made

Anonymous said...

James was my mentor as a student teacher in 1996, he taught me a great deal and inspired me to succeed. It is with great sadness that I have read this report, such a shame, SE11 have lost a talented Headteacher and I wish him all the very best.

malcy700 said...

I read that report. Penny Bermingham sounds a right evil woman. I'm surprised she's allowed to carry on teaching. Hope there is an enquiry into this case.This head teacher deserves better.

Anonymous said...

It is absolutely shocking that these bullying, lying and cheating scumbags Penny Bermingham, Matt Britt, Cathy Twist and Claire Cobbold are still employed by Lambeth Council and responisble for educating children in the borough. The no blame culture at Lambeth Council continues and these low lifes will carry on ruining peoples lives. Awful just awful

Ashmole Parent said...

Penny Bermingham's photo has been removed from the Ashmole Primary Schol website. Looks like Lambeth are covering up for her

Anonymous said...

its a shame Mr James Walker had to endure and suffer because of Lambeth Council. I can empathise with him. All of people whom work in HR stick together like files. I am an ex employee of Lanbeth Coucil. I know they lie and are econmical wih telling the truth. All of the HR Department should be dissmissed, because they do not know the impact their lies have on a persons life. They do not appreciate the hard work and the difference you make in pupils life
Lambeth are not invincible and I am glad Mr Walker won his case against Lambeth Council. Its a shame that he did not get millions for all the stress he was put through. No amount of money will ever compensate what the Council put Mr James through. AS for Claire Cobbold I have had dealiings with you. It s only a matter of time before things will come to the surface that time has come. You may have won the battle but you have not won the war. I believe in calmer what goes around comes around eventually to all in Lambeth HR will get what they truly deserve.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that these characters are still employed and are allowed to represent Young People's Services. They have no regard for decency or have any human feelings.

There is people who actually care and who will represent Young People in a positive way. If you work for a council that have any value for people and whom are all corupt what do you expect. The foundation are not solid so the stucture is shaky,only a matter of time until it crumbles. There will be many more people whom will take Lambeth Council to court good luck to all whom do and win. Lambeth Council and all HR Department need to be inprisoned and made to do hard labour if I had the power all the HR Department would never have anything to do with Children and Young People's Services

Anonymous said...

JW was a very nice man, but a great head teacher he was not and Lambeth were baying for his blood long before. Penny Bermingham was lovely too and was chosen by JW to be his acting head but the petty jealousies of other staff meant her job was made untenable and he was influenced by poisonous gossip. Lambeth HR are malign and also defending many bullying heads within the borough but JW was not one of them. Really this is about money not children. And that's the travesty.

Anonymous said...

Lambeth keep on making these stupid decisions without bothering to investigate cases properly. I've sat on many appeals against dismissals at Lambeth and the whole process was usually a sham. The proof was that most of the cases that went to Industrial Tribunal were upheld.

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