£15,000 for teacher 'left a wreck' by school head

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The Independent Online

A deputy headteacher has been awarded £15,000 compensation after suffering misery at the hands of a headmistress whose "footsteps in the corridor" he came to dread.

A deputy headteacher has been awarded £15,000 compensation after suffering misery at the hands of a headmistress whose "footsteps in the corridor" he came to dread.

Geoff Hetherington, a teacher with 25 years' experience, had been praised by Ofsted inspectors before Gill Wray was appointed as his headteacher and took issue with his teaching style, an industrial tribunal in Newcastle upon Tyne was told.

He lost three stone and was reduced to a nervous wreck who, on arriving at school, would "sit in the car, shaking".

Mr Hetherington, 49, the former deputy head at Bishopton and Redmarshall Primary School near Darlington, Co Durham, said: "I really tried to do what she wanted but it became clear that nothing I did would ever please her. I believe she just wanted me out. It reached the point where I would be in a classroom and dread the sound of Mrs Wray's footsteps in the corridor outside."

"She would call in the classroom unannounced and sit there making notes. I was told my teaching plans were not good enough, I had to repeatedly do new ones and write endless reports.

"Mrs Wray ruled all contact had to be via memos - it was ridiculous in such a small school. In the end I couldn't bear to look in my staff pigeon hole because it was invariably stuffed with memos from her unjustly criticising my performance or heaping more work on me," he told the tribunal.

"I tried to cope with the workload but nothing I did was ever going to be good enough for her. I would get to bed at 3am but when I shut my eyes all I saw was yellow 'stickies' - the Post-it notes she covered my work with."

Mrs Wray, who is in her late 40s, branded Mr Hetherington a danger to children because of his poor hearing and arranged medicals without consulting him, then showed no compassion when his father was taken to hospital for emergency treatment, the tribunal was told. "One day I stood up in front of a class of seven-year-olds and my eyes just filled with tears - that was when I decided I had to see a doctor."

George McGregor, an occupational heath specialist at Darlington Borough Council, told the education authority that Mr Hetherington was suffering "considerable stress" resulting from his treatment at school and signed him off on sick leave in 1997.

But though five letters were sent by Dr McGregor's department to the director of education, Geoff Pennington, he received no reply. Mr Hetherington was sacked in February 1999 on the basis of incapability, owing to long-term sickness.

In evidence to the original tribunal last November, Mrs Wray said she was "very surprised" her deputy felt he was victimised. She maintained that his dismissal was in the best interests of the children.

The tribunal had already ruled Mr Hetherington was unfairly dismissed and suffered breach of contract. The education authority had failed to specify the nature of Mr Hetherington's sickness, consider medical advice for him or give priority to his welfare. Now the tribunal has ordered a £15,142 payment to Mr Hetherington.