Suspension and dismissal of a member of the senior leadership team

Debate – Primary School

What was the issue addressed?
As Chair I had to intervene with an issue in school in the Headteacher’s absence. The Headteacher was off sick at the time. As a result there was a conduct issue with a member of staff within school. Then as Chair I took a whistleblowing call.

What happened?
I carried out an initial fact finding from a member of staff, a parent and governors. Initially pulled together evidence and witness statements, (some historic) presented the evidence to Director of Education with recommendations, then suspended the member of staff. I also liaised with Governor Support Services.

What lessons were learnt?
Confidentiality was imperative. The disciplinary process is not expeditious nor acts in the favour of the school and the children. Having the right governor lead on the case and being one step ahead of the council.

Lessons learnt = HR was incompetent. Really lucky that we had the professional knowledge in the GB. HR processes and protocols need to be more robust and laid out.

Human Resource issues can be very complex, so it is important that governing bodies review their policies and are familiar with the correct processes to follow. Your Local Authority may also provide a range of training for you to attend, particularly if you are a member of any of the relevant statutory committees, in addition to the provision of specific guidance to assist you.

Your governing body will have the following policies in place (listed below), which are reviewed from time to time by the governing body. Policies that relate to staffing are usually produced by the Local Authority. Links to relevant guidance are also provided:

  • School Staff sickness absence policy

This scenario provides an excellent opportunity to ask questions and discuss what has happened, as well as considering what should have been the correct steps to follow.

Whilst there are gaps in the information provided, here are some key points to note:

  • It is important to ensure an Acting headteacher is in place, if the substantive headteacher is on long term sickness absence. Was this the case here? Did the school have a Deputy Head that was acting up or had the governing body appointed an Acting head?
  • It appears the conduct issue relates to a staff member, possibly from the Senior Leadership Team, so the initial steps should have been taken by the Acting head /Deputy head, if, of course, it was not about them.
  • The Chair seems to have paid a key role in the overall proceedings which is not necessarily appropriate (reference pulling together evidence and witness statements). This should have been the role of the internal or external investigator.
  • Reference is made to whistleblowing, so who was the nominated person to receive any whistleblowing allegations? There is some ambiguity in which process is being referred to at this point. Did the whistleblowing allegation relate to the staff member who is the subject of the disciplinary?
  • Is there a link between the conduct issue and the whistleblowing allegation? Should the disciplinary process be put on hold pending the investigation of any whistleblowing concern?
  • Do any of the concerns relate to safeguarding allegations for the conduct or whistleblowing issue?
  • Were relevant Local Authority staff consulted for guidance and advice?
  • Were the statutory authorities involved?
  • Involvement of chair in the fact-finding exercise and the reference to governors. Care must be taken not to taint governors with information that would jeopardise their potential role in any forthcoming hearing.
  • Was an investigation carried out? for disciplinary and whistleblowing. Were processes concurrent?
  • There is a distinct process for suspension; The Local Authority cannot suspend a staff member. Reference Section 10 pages 56-58.

This case study indicates that the staff member was ‘dismissed’ but there is no reference to the governor staff disciplinary/dismissal committee and any subsequent appeal. These are key steps in the process and must be conducted correctly.

Should you be faced with a staff disciplinary matter, there is a distinct process to follow, likewise, with whistleblowing. Above all, it is important to ensure that governors have been trained and have the right skills and knowledge to deal with complex Human Resource issues.

Please seek advice from the Local Authority or Diocesan Authority as appropriate, right from the beginning or contact Governors Cymru Services on [email protected]

Is your GB equipped to deal with serious conduct issues concerning a member of staff?
Has your GB got policies in place in the event of absences from members of the leadership team?

Have your say…
Have you had experiences similar to these?
What do you think about the situation described?

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