Having really enjoyed my work for the previous 5 years working with pupils in a Local Authority EBD (Emotional & Behavioural difficulties) School, I never would have imagined that morning what would later transpire and how it would change my life irreversibly.
I worked with pupils on a one to one basis to help them catch up, as many had either truanted, been excluded or had been unable to keep up in the classroom.
Just before it began, I felt as happy in my work as anyone could. Believing that I worked among honest, trustworthy and professional colleagues. Some I would have considered to be friends that I trusted.
I was soon to find out that this was far from the case.
I had noticed one boy, ….. had been out of class a lot. So when he came in to do his work with me I raised this with him. It went something like this..
Me: “What the heck are you doing being sent out of class, when we are working for you to catch up?”
Him: “I only get sent out of English”
Me: “English Matters!”
Him: “If I stay in English, I’ll be gay”
Me: “How will English make you gay?”
Him: “Mr ………. is a child molester, so I throw a chair as soon as I go in so I get sent out then he can’t touch me.
Me: “Do you want to tell me about it?”
Him: “He makes me, …. and …. sit at the back of the class on 3 separate desks, he sits on the chair next to us, pretends to look at our work and touches us under the desk”
Me: “Don’t worry, you’ve done the right thing. I do have to pass this on though”
I advised him to just finish his work, told him that I’d be back in a few moments because I had to inform the Child Protection Officer who was also the DH (Deputy Head). I reported this disclosure to DH who said he would inform H (Headteacher) and that H could go back to my work, which I did.
I had no sooner re-seated myself at my desk when H burst into the room, pointed at me and angrily directed me “You, My room. Now!” Following him to his room, I was thinking, Somehow he’d gotten the wromg end of the stick, that he thought the allegation was about me. So I was not too bothered at that point.
Into his room we go and I’m starting to explain “The allegation isn’t about me!” He pointed at me and spoke in a threatening tone “Shut up and forget about it if you value your job” I was shocked beyond shocked. the ground had just disappeared. I tried reasoning that my contract of employment clearly stated that I must comply with the Child Protection Policy and ensure any disclosure is reported and recorded. He said “So you’re snowballing this and putting yourself outside of my team?” I told him I couldn’t just forget it, I needed it to be recorded. As I left work that day, I felt in an impossible position. I didn’t know quite what to do. It troubled me greatly throughout the whole night. I decided to take the day off (the day after the disclosure) I felt quite ill actually and called in sick. I took myself off to the UNISON office as I was a member of the union. I spoke to a man there who was very helpful, he advised me to write the account down, to give it to them, they would then stamp it with the union stamp and send it on so it could not be ignored. I did as he advised, thinking that the union involvement would help resolve all this. As I left the union office, the man I had been dealing with told me to keep him informed and to let him know should anything happen as a result of the letter.
The next day I went into work, H took me into his office stating “This is not a punishment but you are not needed in that job anymore” He was smirking “You will just go wherever you are needed or photocopying” telling me that another member of staff would do my job from now on. Bear in mind that I was the only person who held that position in the school.
What a difference a day makes. I now found myself going into a workplace where suddenly my friendly colleagues wouldn’t even look at me, let alone speak to me. I would be sent to a classroom to be told by the teacher “I don’t need you in here” emphasis being on the word ‘you’.
I also contacted Social Services (the pupil that had made the initial disclosure was in Local Authority care), the Police, who told me to leave it in the hands of the school and called the NSPCC, they also said to leave it in the hands of the school. I had applied to be a foster carer and had just completed the vetting process successfully. The process had involved interviewing my colleagues, line managers and employers. I was told I had received glowing references. Now, only weeks later H was claiming that I had an attitude problem, that I was hostile and aggressive with staff, pupils and parents. H stated he did not like my attitude. In fact H and DH took me into my room to tell me this, they later stated that this was a disciplinary.
My job had been taken from me, a job that I’d earned praise from OFSTED shortly beforehand. So I went back to the union after work to see the rep who was dealing with my case. Surprisingly I was told he didn’t work there any more, he had moved. The day before he had told me to go back to see him if anything happened but now he wasn’t there. I had a new union rep appointed who arranged a meeting in the council offices with a member of staff from the Department of Education. My doctor had declared me unfit for work due to work related stress due to the various symptoms I was suffering.
As I waited in the meeting room I overheard some talking outside the door, the LEA (Local Education Authority) representative was a woman whom I heard speaking quietly to the rep “We can’t sack her while she’s on the sick, you need to get her back to work” They came into the room and after the initial niceties the rep advised me to go back to work. I left the meeting and rang the GMB union desperate for advice, who kindly offered to take on the case. The GMB area rep arranged a meeting with H at the school.At this meeting one of the issues the rep attempted to resolve was that H had stated that I had been in school the day after the disclosure when an investigation had taken place. I had in fact taken that day off sick and visited UNISON. The rep and I were both shocked to hear H brazenly laugh as he told us “I am the boss of this school and the staff here will say whatever I tell them to say”
As we left the meeting the rep advised me to resign, this was a clear case of constructive dismissal he believed. I followed his advice and resigned. It was impossible to continue working there anyway. The list of things that my colleagues did to make my life unpleasant I will leave out to shorten this rather lengthy story. Colleagues who had appeared to be compassionate and caring people now telling me (in secret) that they had mortgages so they couldn’t do what I was doing, they didn’t want what was happening to me to happen to them. I did remind them that I was a single parent who also had a mortgage but that failed to sway them to tell the truth.
The GMB union appointed a solicitor to take the case to tribunal. The case took two days during which time I believed the case would be easily won. The contradictions were obvious, one example, DH was asked whether I had been in work the day after the disclosure. He said that I had. It was then pointed out to him that in his written statement he had stated that I had not been in work the day after the disclosure. He was asked why he had written that I had not been in work if he was now saying that I had, his reply was “Because I felt like it at the time”. These contradictions happened repeatedly throughout the two days hence I believed that justice would prevail. How wrong I was.
The verdict was that I had decided to leave.
Basically that I had tried to damage a colleague’s career and take a tidy sum with me. As we left the court the union rep, who had always been very supportive was astonished at the verdict saying “We should have had the press in there, they would have had field day”. I was advised to appeal but my application for an appeal was refused.
I had done nothing wrong, I was now jobless, could not pay my mortgage, could no longer afford a car. The prospect of getting another job after taking your employer to tribunal and losing is not good.
Worst of all, I fear I left a clear playing field, it was now obvious that no other staff member would speak up. The boy told me he wished he had never told me, because now they would get rid of me. Now I feared that none of the pupils would dare speak up again.
The story has been compacted because it is so long.
A whistleblower’s life is not a happy one. They do shoot the messenger.