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Teacher fired after blowing the whistle to Ofsted wins £50,000 payout after tribunal victory

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A teacher who was sacked after revealing that naughty school children were being ‘hidden away on the squash courts’ during an Ofsted inspection has today revealed how he was ‘stigmatised’ for being a whistleblower.

Ged Thomas, 53, was fired from his role at the Berwick Academy, Northumberland, after making the whistleblowing claim to Ofsted.          

After a three-year legal battle, the PE and Maths teacher, has now been awarded a £50,000 payout after judges ruled he was unfairly dismissed.

However, despite winning the tribunal, Mr Thomas said he has been unable to find a job during the proceedings and has not been ‘paid a penny’ since leaving the school.

He also alleges that, despite being previously being in employment for 33 years, he has been unable to claim benefits during the tribunal procedure.   

Mr Thomas said he was ‘stigmatised’ as result of becoming a whistleblower.

And the father-of-two, who had been teaching for 10 years prior to the incident after changing career, aged 40, said that the stigma had not been dropped – even though he had now won his tribunal case.

Mr Thomas told MailOnline: ‘It’s had a massive impact on my life. I have not had a penny since leaving the school.

‘It’s also had an impact on my family, my wife is an NHS front line worker, my daughter is at university and her finance has been impacted, and my other child also works in the NHS.’

Ged Thomas (pictured) told Ofsted that unruly pupils were kept hidden away from inspectors during a visit to 'inadequate' Berwick Academy, in Northumberland

Ged Thomas (pictured) told Ofsted that unruly pupils were kept hidden away from inspectors during a visit to ‘inadequate’ Berwick Academy, in Northumberland

Mr Thomas said he had been documenting his grievances with the school since 2013 and had tried to raise issues through the correct channels.

But, after facing resistance, he said he eventually decided to speak out to Ofsted and flag his complaints, including his claim about the school’s naughty children being hidden away on the squash courts from inspectors.

He said: ‘I spoke without fear or favour. I’m a straightforward, straight talking Yorkshire man, who believes in speaking the truth.

‘100 per cent I did this for the children. This is a rural area and is the only school around in 30 minutes. And I believe education is vital to unlocking potential.

‘We as a society need people to speak out and to speak about things when they are wrong, because if you don’t then it leads to a drop in the acceptable standards.’

Asked how the process had left him feeling, Mr Thomas, who moved to the area in 2000 with his wife and kids, said: ‘I feel completely and unequivocally let down by the system, the process and the people involved. I’ve been failed, absolutely failed.’

However he praised his family and those who had stuck by him throughout, saying: ‘I don’t know how I would have got throughout this without their support.

The PE and Maths teacher was later sacked by the academy after he posted critical comments about headteacher Alexis Widdowson (pictured) on Facebook

The PE and Maths teacher was later sacked by the academy after he posted critical comments about headteacher Alexis Widdowson (pictured) on Facebook

‘It’s been vital to have that support from my wife and my family, but the support elsewhere, it’s been lacking.’ 

In January 2018, Mr Thomas contacted Ofsted to warn them that unruly pupils were kept hidden away from inspectors during visit to the school.

The inspectors later deemed the school to be ‘inadequate’ – the lowest level on the scale.

He was sacked in 2018, with the school claiming the dismissal was due to social media criticism of then head-teacher Alexis Widdowson, who resigned before the subsequent Ofsted report – which labelled the academy as ‘inadequate’ – was published.

After being sacked, Mr Thomas took the school to court claiming unfair dismissal. 

And earlier this year employment judges later ruled that Mr Thomas was unfairly dismissed – due to what the tribunal heard was the school’s ‘deeply flawed’ internal disciplinary investigation. 

Earlier this month he was awarded a £50,000 payout by employment judges. 

At the initial hearing, employment Judge Tudor Garnon said: ‘[Mr Thomas] received text messages from a colleague and parents saying certain pupils, who were known for misbehaving, had been removed from lessons to the squash courts out of sight of the inspection team.

‘Hiding children from Ofsted inspectors would almost certainly amount to concealment of information which tends to show relevant failures.

‘That for him was the last straw. He formally raised his concerns to Ofsted through their online school teachers portal, whilst sitting in his car.’

The school tried to claim during the hearing that the social media posts were the only reason Mr Thomas had been sacked, not his whistleblowing.

However, a Newcastle employment tribunal found they were not an ‘indication of disloyalty’ and ruled the internal investigation leading to Mr Thomas’s dismissal was ‘deeply flawed’.

Bosses at the academy (pictured) claimed the social media posts, which they judged as derogatory or offensive, were 'the sole reason for dismissal'

Bosses at the academy (pictured) claimed the social media posts, which they judged as derogatory or offensive, were ‘the sole reason for dismissal’

Mr Thomas made the social media comments on The Berwick Advertiser’s Facebook page under a link to an article about Ms Widdowson’s departure.

The Tribunal heard that replying to another commenter, he talked about Ms Widdowson’s ‘ability to manipulate, persuade, bully and lie’.

He also said she had a ‘failed approach to behaviour management, teaching and learning, staff management and leadership’.

The comments were reported to the school and Mr Thomas was dismissed. Academy chiefs claimed the social media posts were ‘the sole reason for dismissal’. 

But the panel concluded that making the negative social media comments had not been an ‘indication of any disloyalty’ to his employers. 

And in a 44-page judgment, the tribunal found the school’s policy on social media use and whistleblowing was overly ‘complex’ and ‘it was inevitable there would be disagreement on whether they were complied with fully.’ 

Judge Garnon upheld Mr Thomas’ claims for wrongful dismissal, unfair dismissal, compensation for untaken annual leave and breach of contract relating to missing property. 

Awarding the compensation, Judge Garnon said: ‘I found [Mr Thomas] was not guilty of gross misconduct because any breach of lawful and reasonable instructions was not an indication of his disloyalty to, or wish to harm, the Academy as such, therefore not a fundamental breach of his contract.’

He awarded £4,002 for breach of contract, £42,827 for unfair dismissal and a further £3,293 for untaken annual leave. 

The school, which has around 600 pupils and serves the town and rural area of Berwick-upon-Tweed in North Northumberland, is now under the leadership of Tracy Hush.   

It has been in special measures since the ‘inadequate’ inspection in 2018. 

But in the latest check-up, carried out in May this year, acknowledged there had been ‘significant changes’ to the the school’s leadership team and inspectors praised those in charge for ‘taking effective action to provide education in the current circumstances’.

MailOnline has contacted Mr Thomas and the Berwick Academy for comment. 

In a previous statement, released following the outcome of the tribunal, Donna Goddard, Chair and Parent Trustee at Berwick Academy, said: ‘We are disappointed with the Employment Tribunal’s decision that Mr Thomas was unfairly dismissed, particularly in view of its findings regarding his high degree of contributory fault towards his dismissal.

‘We wish to emphasise that the Tribunal rejected Mr Thomas’ principal argument that he was dismissed for publicly raising concerns or ‘blowing the whistle’, as the Academy has robustly maintained throughout.

‘This judgment relates to legal proceedings which have been ongoing since 2018, in respect of events which took place under previous Senior Leadership Teams.

‘The Academy wishes to move forward and continue working with relevant stakeholders to deliver the highest standards of education to its current and future pupils.’

Bosses said the school had carried out an investigation into Mr Thomas’ claims that school children had been hidden, but found ‘no evidence’ to substantiate the allegations.

 

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