School’s failure to mount “thorough and careful” investigation leads to unfair dismissal ruling
A tribunal has found that a school failed to meet the need for a ‘thorough and careful’ investigation when it dismissed Mohammad Basit. It rules that Basit, who had worked at the school since 2012 and had a clean record and a self-professed “love for his job”, was not at fault because the school did not view as “crucial evidence” the full behaviour record of the student who made the allegations against him.
In January 2020, Basit was teaching the student in the last lesson of the day. He noticed that the student not engaged and, using his normal management techniques, asked him to stand at the back of the classroom by the cupboard. Basit, whose teaching style was to use “light humour” in his lessons, told the tribunal he “joked” that the student should get in the cupboard, which he did for a “short time”.
Without Basit knowing, the student and two others who had also been disciplined during the same lesson went to the headteacher to allege that Basit had forced the student in the cupboard. The headteacher took their statements – which the tribunal said had “inconsistencies and similarities” – and started an investigation the same day. Basit was later approached by the deputy head about the incident and was asked to make a statement. However Basit didn’t know about the allegations against him, nor was he told how seriously the school was treating it, and made a “quick, handwritten statement.
His statement said that he asked the student to go into the cupboard “as a joke” and didn’t think he would actually go in – but he did. Basit added that he took him out as it was clear “he wasn’t going to leave himself”. However, after writing the statement, Basit was not allowed to go to class but told to wait in the staffroom for over an hour before meeting the headteacher and the HR manager who suspended him on full pay pending an investigation.
From then on the Tribunal concluded that there were faults at each stage of the process that sometimes led to “imbalanced or baseless conclusions”, and said that because of the seriousness of the allegations against Basit and the implications for his career, “the most thorough and careful of investigations was required”, but that this investigation “did not meet that standard”. The tribunal was critical of the HR Manager who at the investigatory meeting had “overstepped her remit as HR advisor” and exerted improper influence by suggesting that putting the student in the cupboard would have damaged his emotional welfare. The tribunal said that the HR function “should avoid straying into areas of culpability and it was unreasonable in this instance to do so”.
Notwithstanding Basit’s statement at the disciplinary hearing that the shortcomings in the investigation made the process unfair, and that the students’ “appalling” behaviour records were not being properly taken into account, he was dismissed and his appeal not upheld.
The tribunal concurred with Basit’s claim and ruled that for a well-thought of teacher of good character with a good disciplinary record, dismissal was an “extremely harsh sanction” and not within the band of reasonable responses.