Union threatens to sue over suspended teachers

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The Independent Online

The National Union of Teachers is threatening to take the governors of an infant school to the High Court to force them to reinstate two suspended teachers.

Kate Andrews and Sharon Tyler were suspended from Hendre Infants in Caerphilly, south Wales, on the first day of term after they were accused of trying to undermine Carol Joynson, the headteacher.

Ms Andrews has worked at the school since 1972 as a nursery teacher. Ms Tyler joined the staff four years ago as a specialist working with children with hearing impairments.

The union argued that their suspension was unlawful because the allegations did not involve gross misconduct or threats to children.

Grahame Clayton, the NUT's senior solicitor, said he expected a legal challenge to be launched next week unless the teachers were reinstated.

"We will be asking the court to declare the suspensions unlawful," he said. "Kneejerk reactions to allegations like this do not justify suspension. There is a duty on every employer to examine whether it is necessary to suspend staff for the protection of children, other teachers or school property."

He added: "We are quite clear that this case did not warrant suspension."

Officials also complained that the school had not given them enough detail about the allegations, and accused the governors of rejecting an eight-point plan to resolve the situation.

Dyfan Jones, spokesman for NUT Cymru, said: "The governing body has failed to follow the correct disciplinary procedures." The union branch was "considering all options with regards to High Court injunction to forcibly lift the illegal suspension of its members at the school," he said.

But Christine Forehead, the chairman of the governing body, denied the governors had rejected the eight-point agreement, and said they were "extremely concerned" at the prospect of legal action.

"We were not aware that the NUT was taking any action," Mrs Forehead said. "We are now in a position where we find that the governors are given authority to do certain things but there is no back up for them when they try to do anything. If they expect people to do this on a voluntary basis, at least we should have some kind of support to help us. There seems to be absolutely nobody there to help us."

She added: "The governing body decided we were not in a position to make a decision last night, and needed clarification of certain points from the local education authority. We have written a letter to the LEA."

The 181-pupil school has seven teachers, including the two suspended staff. All seven are members of the NUT. There are also a small number of non-teaching staff who are members of Unison, the public services union. The NUT and Unison are also balloting staff on industrial action. Mr Jones said a first ballot had been unanimously in favour of strike action. The results of the second will be known in 10 days.

Mr Jones said the threat of industrial action at the school could have been avoided if the board of governors had agreed to the plan drawn up that was supposed to have provided a basis for the restoration of normal working at the school.

"Everybody was hoping it was going to be resolved last night," he said, adding: "We are disappointed that the governing body has rejected the recommendations of its chair and vice-chair." The headteacher, Ms Joynson, was unavailable for comment.