Professionals who work in education, especially those who work with minors, are expected to operate to very high standards of conduct, ethics and safety, due to the vulnerability of those who they work with and their position of power, influence and trust.
Dave Ward, a partner in the Employment team at Blacks Solicitors, shares his advice on what education employers and employees need to be aware of relating to allegations of misconduct and safeguarding, unfair dismissal and teacher’s duties.
Safeguarding and misconduct
Professionals in education should always be mindful of the privileged position in which they work. The safeguarding of students and particularly children in education settings is absolutely paramount. It is likely that most instances of potential misconduct will give rise to safeguarding concerns. Errors of judgement, inappropriate behaviours and major failures to carry out aspects of the role could put children at risk.
Where misconduct is determined following a reasonable process, it can have career ending consequences for professionals in education, especially given there are regulatory reporting obligations and reference requirements, including DBS checks, that are naturally in place to alert local authorities and prospective employers to risks.
It is likely that those subject to allegations of misconduct will be represented by a union and their representatives can take various types of approach, from reasonable and pragmatic, to occasionally derailing processes which cause significant disruption, leading to the parties losing sight of the ultimate objective, which is the provision of a safe learning environment for all.
Against this backdrop, education providers can rest easy in the knowledge that if there is reasonable evidence of wrongdoing, a robust and fair disciplinary process should allow appropriate action to be taken, without putting the establishment at risk.
However, providers must also be mindful of underlying causes of misconduct, such as what occurred in City of York Council v Grosset. In that case, the local authority was found to have discriminated against Mr Grosset on the grounds of disability when disciplining him, where it had not realised that his alleged misconduct was connected to his disability.
It is important for the employer not to place conduct standards and safeguarding on such a pedestal that employment rights are overlooked. Similarly, just because allegations are raised, the employer should not overreact and forgo a reasonable investigation and evidence gathering exercise, as this could well put the establishment at risk of failing to properly investigate, understand the facts and take appropriate remedial action.
Whilst the education sector is a rather niche area of Human Resources, established best practice guidance as set out under the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures, remains sufficient to conduct disciplinary processes in education settings. This is so, even where there are allegations involving the most serious types of misconduct. A thorough, methodical and transparent approach to investigating and making decisions is vital.
For more information, please visit https://www.lawblacks.com/business/employment-law/