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Supreme Court Underlines Duties of Those Who Work with Children

Those who work with children bear onerous safeguarding duties and must expect to be subjected to closer scrutiny than other employees. In one case on point, the Supreme Court ruled that a headteacher was fairly dismissed after she failed to disclose her friendship with a man convicted of downloading indecent images of children.

The woman had known the man for about ten years before she was appointed head of a primary school. Although their relationship was not sexual or romantic, they were close friends and had bought an investment property together. He lived in the house and, whilst she was staying overnight, she witnessed his arrest. That was about seven months before she was taken on by the school.

His subsequent conviction did not put an end to their friendship and they later went on holiday together. After the school’s governors found out about the relationship, the woman was immediately suspended. Following a disciplinary hearing, she was found guilty of gross misconduct in failing to disclose her friendship with the man and was summarily dismissed. The governors were particularly concerned by her refusal to accept that her relationship might pose a risk to pupils and the school.

The woman’s unfair dismissal claim was rejected by an Employment Tribunal and, latterly, by the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal. In rejecting her final appeal, the Supreme Court found that her dismissal fell within the range of reasonable responses open to the governors.

Her role as headteacher obliged her to assist the governors in safeguarding pupils and she was aware of the man’s serious and recent conviction. She had access to important information about pupils, including their home addresses, and had power to authorise visitors entering the school. In those circumstances, the governors were entitled to conclude that her friendship with the man posed a potential risk to pupils and that her failure to disclose the relationship merited dismissal. Her continuing refusal to accept that she had breached her duty suggested a lack of insight that made it inappropriate for her to continue to run the school.



 
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