Lecturer wins over £50k from large college group for unfair dismissal

New City College bosses would not have fired lecturer if ‘fair procedure’ was followed, judge rules

New City College bosses would not have fired lecturer if ‘fair procedure’ was followed, judge rules

a-level

One of the country’s largest college groups has been ordered to pay more than £50,000 in compensation to a former sports lecturer for unfairly dismissing him.

Michael Barbrook, a former tourism lecturer and then course leader for sports at Havering Sixth Form College, part of New City College, won his case after the college was found to have conducted a flawed dismissal and appeal in 2021.

According to court documents, a judge suggested New City College was “creating a case to fit the outcome it desired rather than looking at evidence and allegations completely impartially”.

The employment tribunal unanimously ruled that Michael Barbrook should be paid £53,256.95 in compensation for unfair dismissal plus £174.95 in compensation for preparing for the case while not legally represented.

The allegations

Barbrook joined Havering Sixth Form College in 1997 and had 23 years of an “unblemished” disciplinary record. The college merged with New City College in 2019.

But he was sacked without notice for “gross misconduct” in January 2021 after New City College claimed he had cancelled morning coaching sessions, falsified register marks, left work early without permission and did not provide students with their allocated teaching hours in October 2020. Barbrook contested the decision but failed at his appeal.

The court was privy to an all-staff briefing from September 2020 of the difficult conditions FE staff were working in during the pandemic ahead of the new academic year. New City College CEO Gerry McDonald told staff that the senior management team were “keen to avoid” immediately moving to online learning. 

“Subject to the need to provide cover where necessary, teachers will only need to be on campus when they are actually teaching if they choose to undertake marking and preparation at home,” McDonald said.

Group CEO Gerry McDonald told he had superficial understanding of case

That month, Barbrook’s request to work from home “as students in the sports classes had been asked to work from home due to five positive incidents of Covid 19” was denied. The grievance officer in charge of Barbrook’s subsequent complaint admitted that the request was reasonable and “the college could have done more”.

Barbrook was suspended on full pay in November 2020 and invited to a disciplinary hearing to hear that he had “falsified register marks, specifically those relating to coaching sessions on a Friday morning”.

“It is alleged that your alleged actions fail to meet our expectations of proper conduct by a college employee and breach the trust and confidence which goes to the heart of any employment relationship,” the college added.

The court heard that the college was aware of an informal practice of teachers starting the final lesson of the day during the lunch break beforehand “in order to engineer an early finish”.

Barbrook worked at the college, located in Hornchurch, but he lived in in Caerphilly, South Wales, a three-hour drive away. He had a longstanding agreement with the college that his “offsite time” would be timetabled on a Friday afternoon so he could leave early to drive home.

‘No chance’ of dismissal of fair procedure adopted

The tribunal also heard that the then-deputy CEO, Suri Araniyasundaran, who dismissed the teacher, was “completely incurious” in his approach to Barbrook’s allegations. 

Araniyasundaran left New City College in March 2023, three months before Barbook’s case hearings began.

Araniyasundaran admitted he had not seen Barbrook’s personnel file, his disciplinary record, or the minutes of the meeting with students which confirmed when the two sports lessons ended before sacking Barbrook.

Nor had he seen minutes of the investigation meeting with Barbrook’s line manager, where she had given verbal permission to bring forward his lesson.

An appeal was overseen by McDonald, who, as well as leading New City College as group CEO, is the chair of the Association of Colleges’ employment policy group.

The judge said McDonald had a “very superficial understanding” of the allegations of misconduct and the tribunal was “surprised” to see that the appeal outcome letter was only one page and one line long.  

The tribunal concluded: “We are satisfied that the [college’s] decision to dismiss (and uphold that decision), and the standards by which those decisions were reached, fell beyond the band of responses open to a reasonable employer of a similar size and with similar administrative resources.”

It added: “If a fair procedure had been adopted and the dismissing officer [Araniyasundaran] or appeal officer [McDonald] had fairly considered the custom and practice at the college and the mitigating evidence, there was no chance that [Barbrook] would have been dismissed.  At most he may have received a warning, but he was most likely to receive training on revised practices.”

The court dismissed Barbrook’s claim of disability discrimination of anxiety and depression.

New City College declined to comment.

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