Camden headteacher defends sacking of disabled teaching assistant at employment tribunal

Headteacher John Dowd spoke at the tribunal. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Headteacher John Dowd spoke at the tribunal. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

A headteacher has defended the sacking of a former teaching assistant with multiple sclerosis (MS), who claims she was discriminated against because of her disability.

Haverstock School

Haverstock School - Credit: Archant

Sarah Kelsey was fired from Haverstock School, in Haverstock Hill, Chalk Farm, last year for being frequently late or absent when she was supposed to be reading with under-performing pupils to improve their literacy skills, an employment tribunal heard this week.

But her requests for flexible starting times to accommodate her illness were ignored, she told London Central Employment Tribunal in Holborn on Tuesday.

Today, headteacher, John Dowd, told the court that the school supported Sarah Kelsey throughout her illness, approving all her requests to attend hospital appointments, and often paying for taxis to take her home at the end of the day.

He told judges: “We are very flexible because I accept that in most cases, you can’t change appointments without putting everything on hold.

“I’m completely certain that Miss Kelsey was never denied any access to this.”

He added: “Adjustments were made. She was given opportunity to leave school if she wasn’t feeling well.”

Most Read

But Miss Kelsey’s lawyer, Helen Compton, disputed his testimony, and said: “But Miss Kelsey did not want to go home, she wanted a quiet area to collect herself and then carry on.”

However, Mr Dowd said the school does not have a dedicated wellbeing room, telling judges: “Space is at a premium”.

The court heard on Tuesday that an occupational health report advised Miss Kelsey’s employers to give her a flexible starting time and access to a room where she could rest.

But the report was issued just one day before she was suspended on full pay in June 2014 over concerns about her professional conduct, judges heard.

Miss Kelsey, who worked at the school for nine years, had requested flexible starting times at least three months before the report was published, the tribunal heard.

Mr Dowd told judges that it was considered, but that Miss Kelsey was not formally diagnosed with MS at the time, and an earlier occupational health report advised that she was fit to work.

He said that even if she had been diagnosed, it would have been difficult to accommodate later starting times because the school has strict timetables, the court heard.

He has never allowed a staff member to come in late on a long-term basis for that reason, he told the court.

But it would have been an option to reduce Miss Kelsey’s hours and have her work on a part-time basis, judges heard.

Mr Dowd disputed that Miss Kelsey, of Holloway, had been discriminated against, and told the court: “I’m interested in the wellbeing of everyone that comes into our school. We are an inclusive school, that applies to staff, students and anyone else that uses the school.

“Many of our staff have medical issues, two are registered disabled, one has been here for 20 years.”

The tribunal continues.