Sunday, 5 December 2010

Headteacher sacked by School Governors after failing to eat a cake

A slice of birthday cake was left for head teacher Diane Hill in her in-tray by an office worker, when she failed to eat the gift. The member of staff took offence and lodged a complaint with school governors.

The head teacher was also said to have failed to commiserate after the death of a staff member's dog.

She was further accused, wrongly, of confiscating a kettle from the staff room during a row over unwashed crockery. Another complaint to governors centred on Miss Hill's failure to ask a colleague about her mother's health.

In yet another incident, cleaners and dinner ladies at the Plymouth school complained they had been excluded from a "secret Santa" present-buying list – and when Miss Hill investigated the matter, she was accused of intimidating the person who had compiled the list.
Friends of Miss Hill say that the flurry of trivial accusations stemmed, in fact, from resentment among a small group of staff that the new head teacher was changing the established way of doing things – or in some cases by personal dislike of her.

Yet after hearing the litany of complaints, the school's governors decided to suspend the head on full pay, leading to a full-on war of allegations and counter-allegations.

The local authority, Plymouth city council, then launched a full investigation which ultimately led to Miss Hill's dismissal.

Now she has been awarded undisclosed damages after the city council agreed an out-of-court settlement just before an employment tribunal was due to take place.

The total cost to taxpayers of the payout, the investigation, and other costs arising from the case is understood to exceed £300,000.

A parent at the school, Fiona Kerr, said: "We have lost the most fantastic head teacher, and for what? A few people's hurt feelings. It's disgraceful.
"The school had become lazy. Other schools had improved immensely and Devonport had stood still. Diane was a great loss."

Miss Hill's friends say that the case raises important questions about the powers of school governors and about reforms proposed by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, which would hand them even more control.

The former head teacher is bound by a confidentiality clause which prevents her from talking about what happened at the school.

But a friend speaking on her behalf said Miss Hill was concerned that other heads could suffer similar treatment – and may be left even more isolated by the Government's plans.

The friend said: "The outcome of this whole sorry incident is that they (School Governors) have potentially destroyed Diane's career.

"Her case should act as a warning to others, particularly since governing bodies are now being given more power and independence by the Government."

The final report by city council education officials made numerous comments about the head teacher's frosty relationship with staff, but nowhere did it claim there had been serious incompetence or misconduct on her part.

The birthday cake incident stands out as the most extraordinary complaint in Miss Hill's case – particularly because the 48-year-old has dietary requirements which mean she cannot eat cake.
"She is allergic to milk. This was a sponge cake with cream in the middle," said her friend, who declined to be named.

"It would be funny if it were not so serious. I don't think there was a single allegation that amounted to anything substantial."

The friend added: "When all this was going on Diane was on the floor, devastated. She lost two stone in weight, and cried until she could not cry any more."

One School governor, who declined to be named, said: "The art of successful management is to get on with people and Diane was catastrophic"

"She fell out with office staff, teacher, parents, governors and then local authority officers. "How can you carry a headship if you can't keep in with at least somebody?"
"I feel she was completely out of her depth."

Another School governor said: "She ignored the sixth form and I think the school lost credence in her time. The whole thing caused us a great deal of time and stress."

But another School governor was more sympathetic to Miss Hill's case, saying: "I felt a bit uneasy as it progressed that it was rather trivial and there was a bit of a witch-hunt going on"
"People claimed there was an atmosphere of fear at the school, but I think things had snowballed and developed a life of its own."

A joint statement issued after last month's settlement by the governing body, the city council and Miss Hill said: "The parties are pleased to have reached an amicable resolution to events that resulted in Miss Hill's departure from the school."This has been a prolonged and unfortunate process for all."

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