College lecturer wrongfully sacked over ‘vengeful’ misconduct claims

Tribunal finds Halesowen College failed to carry out a full investigation before sacking esports lecturer

Tribunal finds Halesowen College failed to carry out a full investigation before sacking esports lecturer

A former college lecturer has won damages after an employment tribunal ruled he was wrongfully dismissed over “fabricated” allegations of misconduct made by a student seeking “revenge”.

Kirk Wood, a former esports teacher at Halesowen College, has been awarded £3,431.31 after a judge found the college did not fully investigate accusations of inappropriate behaviour and deemed his immediate sacking was unfair.

Wood was fired last March for gross misconduct after a student claimed he breached professional boundaries by asking her out for a drink and “consistently” bringing up his sex life during lessons, amongst other “career-ending” allegations.

Employment judge Robert Childe found that the student raised allegations against the teacher as “revenge” after he reported safeguarding concerns about her being previously sexually assaulted, an incident she didn’t want to get back to her family.

The “contradictory” allegations were brought by the student and her boyfriend, and his two friends, who claimed that Wood disclosed information about his romantic life, that he had been using dating apps Grinder [sic] and Tinder, and was both a 30-year-old virgin and engaged in group sex.

“It is likely [she] was a student who would raise the allegations falsely as revenge for what she perceived to be the claimant interfering in her home life,” the judge said.

The judge ruled that Halesowen College principal Jacqueline Carmen, who was interim deputy principal at the time of the incident, “behaved unreasonably” for taking the claims at “face value” and for not interviewing four staff members who could corroborate Wood’s professional behaviour.

“Jacquie Carmen then took the unilateral decision to dismiss the claimant without conducting a further investigation,” the judge ruled.

College bosses told FE Week they “thoroughly” investigated the student complaint and fired Wood over gross misconduct.

“We have of course noted the judge’s decision,” a statement from the college said.

“Going forward, our priority remains the safety and wellbeing of all students and staff.”

The history

Wood was employed from August 2022 to March 2023 at Halesowen College. He told the college before starting that he had been accused of what he believed to be false allegations at a previous employer, Colmers School & Sixth Form College.

Halesowen College subsequently obtained a reference from the school, which said Wood had faced allegations of safeguarding breaches of gross misconduct.

Wood brought a tribunal case against Colmers school in 2020 over wrongful and constructive dismissal after students alleged to another teacher that he mentioned the dating app Tinder in class, touched the face of a female student, and held a chair over a student’s head.

He resigned before a disciplinary hearing took place at the school. The tribunal case was dismissed in August 2021. The college subsequently employed him as an esports lecturer.

The judge found that Carmen “relied” on the Colmers reference as a reason for firing him.

“[Halesowen College] did not follow a fair process prior to the dismissing [Wood],” the ruling said.

“Similarly, a decision was taken by three of the [college’s] employees tasked with managing the [Wood’s] disciplinary process, on multiple occasions, not to obtain information that he requested which would support his case.”

A spokesperson for Halesowen College said: “Safeguarding is a moral and statutory responsibility which is taken very seriously at Halesowen College. Student and staff concerns are listened to and followed up, in accordance with established college procedures. The welfare of everyone involved is paramount throughout the process.

“In this case, a student made a complaint about the behaviour of a member of staff, which was investigated thoroughly. A disciplinary hearing was convened in accordance with our college procedures and found the staff members’ behaviour did constitute gross misconduct, and the member of staff was dismissed. This employee exercised the right of appeal and an appeal hearing upheld the decision. We have of course noted the judge’s decision.

“Going forward, our priority remains the safety and wellbeing of all students and staff. Everyone needs to know that the college is a safe space to raise concerns and be confident that they will be listened to. We will continue to ensure our safeguarding and disciplinary procedures reflect that.”

Kirk Wood was contacted for comment.

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