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In the recent case of Mr A M McCann -v- Acorn Care and Education Limited: 2410201/2019 an employment tribunal sitting at Manchester has decided that Mr McCann had not been unfairly dismissed.

The employer owns and operates around 50 schools across the country, all of which provide specialist education for children with a range of complex needs. Mr McCann was employed as a Pastoral Coordinator at a secondary school operated by the employer.

The claimant was alleged to have had unauthorised contact with a vulnerable pupil, referred to as “child G” in the following ways:

  • The claimant attended a Manchester United football match at Old Trafford alone with child G in October 2018.
  • The claimant invited child G and his foster carer to his home and asked for permission from child G’s social worker for child G to stay with the claimant overnight.
  • The claimant emailed child G on two occasions, once with a colleague copied in and once without anyone else copied in.
  • The claimant attended football matches where child G played on Saturdays and took child G home in his private vehicle on at least two occasions.
  • The claimant had “regular contact with the pupil’s carer not declared to the school” and “shared personal information about himself, including his personal address with the pupil’s carer leading to the pupil being aware of his personal address”.
  • The claimant had purchased a gift for a pupil that was not approved or declared by the school or SLT.

The dismissing officer placed weight on the fact that the claimant had received the highest level of safeguarding training due to his role and was experienced in the role of Pastoral Coordinator. The claimant had admitted that much of the alleged behaviour had occurred.

The dismissing officer had placed weight on The Guidance for Safer Working Practice, which sets out clear boundaries regarding interactions between adults and children. It was noted that paragraph 11 of the guidance suggests that contacting children and/or their families outside the school setting could be a warning sign of grooming.

She considered the claimant should have appreciated that adding the child’s foster carer to his support network was inappropriate and could have led to a reasonable person questioning his motives.

The dismissing officer also placed weight on the claimant’s lack of insight. Whilst he had admitted that many of the incidents had occurred he, “acknowledged no responsibility for what he had done”.

The employment tribunal found that, “given the nature of the claimant’s role and the vulnerability of the children with whom he worked and the lack of the claimant’s insight into his behaviour, the respondent has shown that for an employer of this type, dismissal was within the band of reasonable responses of a reasonable employer, despite the fact this sanction is likely to affect the claimant’s ability to work with children in future”.

This case highlights the need for schools to communicate guidance and policies to staff regarding contact with pupils outside of the school environment. Our team can assist in establishing such policies, communicating with staff and the implications of any safeguarding incidents that occur involving members of staff.

A link to this case can be found here.

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