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Teacher's constructive dismissal claim wait
Published 17/02/14

A TEACHER who says she was forced to resign from a Woodcote school will have to wait a month to find out the result of her legal claim.

Rachel Ashley quit her role as a housemistress at the Oratory School in September 2012 because she says her complaints over the “appalling” behaviour of students were ignored.

She claims one pupil, known as Boy A, filmed himself killing animals, including cats and birds, while an attack on another boy, called Boy B, was “covered up”.

The independent all-boys Catholic school has denied the allegations.

Mrs Ashley is suing the school for constructive dismissal. An employment tribunal in Reading heard evidence from both sides over four days last week before the hearing was adjourned for four weeks for a decision.

Mrs Ashley, from Finchampstead, told the tribunal that she left the school because she believed Boy A would be returning and was concerned about how the attack on Boy B was handled.

She said Boy A had home-made weapons in his room, had been found hunting with a bow and arrow and had taken “horrific” pictures and videos of himself skinning live cats. He had also started a fire during a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award trip and tried to make flame- throwers with deodorant cans.

She said that when she tried to voice her concerns to headteacher Clive Dytor and deputy head Tom Hennessy, she was not taken seriously. She said: “Tom told me regularly, ‘there is only so much I can do’. The headmaster’s view was ‘boys will be boys’, even in relation to the most appalling behaviour.

“I can’t work in an environment where boys are walking around with concealed weapons. I felt he [Boy A] was so dangerous to me and the pupils that his return would cause me a real problem.”

Boy A was eventually withdrawn from the school by his parents but Mrs Ashley said that by then she had already decided to resign.

She claimed the school had tried to cover up the incident involving Boy B, who was dragged on to the school cricket pitch by three other pupils and hit with slippers and belts.

Mrs Ashley said one of the attackers told her: “It was much worse than you think — we wanted to kill him.” Mr Hennessy allegedly told her: “We were lucky not to have found him swinging.”

The tribunal heard Boy B’s parents were not told of the attack after he pleaded with Mr Dytor to keep it a secret, saying he had provoked one of the attackers by calling him “my bitch”.

Mrs Ashley claimed the decision not to tell the parents breached Oxfordshire safeguarding principles.

She said: “I tried to follow the policy in terms of seeing a doctor for him and obtaining a statement from Boy B but the whole thing was covered up. The parents should have been told and the perpetrators temporarily or permanently excluded.

“In a serious case, and I think the assault on Boy B was, the police or Oxfordshire Safeguarding should also have been brought in.”

Mrs Ashley claimed she was repeatedly asked by Mr Hennessy to hand over any information on the attack to him but she insisted on giving it directly to an Oxfordshire County Council safeguarding officer.

Mr Dytor told the tribunal he made the decision not to inform Boy B’s parents of the attack after speaking to him.

He said: “I talked to Boy B about how and why it happened and he asked me to please not tell his parents.

“He had called one of the other boys ‘his bitch’ and was embarrassed about it. He didn’t want his mother to know. Without making any excuse for the other boys, I decided not to tell his mother.”

A report by Alison Beasley, safeguarding officer at Oxfordshire County Council, found no evidence to support Mrs Ashley’s claims of a cover-up and said that Boy B had been given the all-clear by a doctor after the attack.

However, housemaster Dr Tony Stroker was suspended and later stripped of his role after Mrs Beasley found he had failed to uphold child protection policy.

Mrs Ashley said the “final straw” in her decision to resign was when one of the attackers was awarded a school prize at the end-of-year ball.

She had asked her union for advice and decided to hand in her resignation before submitting a letter with details of the two incidents.

She said: “If I blew the whistle and wasn’t able to prove my point then I would have found my position untenable.

“I had certainly felt events were serious enough for me to resign. I just didn’t know how to go about it.

“I was trying to find any way I could of keeping my job but I think I knew in my heart I was going to have to go and I certainly felt events were serious enough to do that.” Mr Dytor said Mrs Ashley became withdrawn and aggressive after deciding to leave the school and repeatedly spurned his attempts to talk to her.

He said: “I tried a number of times in the corridors to say hello and she was always very rude and hostile with me. She nearly ran me over with her car once in the car park. She isolated herself from all the other house mothers and seemed an unhappy woman.”

In summing up, Douglas Leach, representing the school, said Mrs Ashley’s reason for resignation had changed three times during the hearing.

He said: “We’re still trying to identify what was the last straw. If it’s the award given then that’s a matter of discretion for Mr Dytor.

“She said if Boy A came back to school then she would not but then she said in evidence that the situation with Boy A alone was not a matter which would cause her to resign.

“In her witness statement she said Boy A skinned cats alive. She has no evidence of that, she heard it on the grapevine. Mrs Ashley’s description of Boy B’s injuries was full of hyperbole; there is no cover-up here because the boy was sent to the doctor.

“In any case of constructive dismissal you need to see if there’s a breach which gives cause to resign and whether that was a fair reason.

“She resigned first and then asked the school to consider her complaint. Had she complained first then given the school the chance to consider it she may well not have resigned as what she was looking for happened: Dr Stroker was disciplined.”

Rowan Morton, representing Mrs Ashley, said: “There were two breaches: Mrs Ashley not being kept in the loop about Boy A and the treatment of Boy B.

“Having knowledge about the psychological assessment would have given her huge relief and Mr Hennessy said, ‘I will certainly keep you posted on how it went’ about meeting with Boy A’s parents.

“She isn’t kept informed and it’s that promise which gives them an obligation.”

Published 17/02/14

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