Knowland v Eton College (Case No.3306496/21)
A teacher posts a lecture on YouTube with some opinions seemingly out of sync with those expressed by their employing school. The teacher is dismissed for failing to take the lecture down, despite repeated requests.
What gave this seemingly inconsequential story wings 12 months ago which flew it directly into the national press was that this school was Eton (educated the likes of Boris Johnson and Princes William and Harry), seen by many as the bastion of male privilege and power, and the subject of the lecture, an apparent defence of the patriarchy.
A tribunal hearing is pending in the next couple of months and no doubt the story will be chewed over once more. We hear that the teacher was dismissed for gross misconduct although another potential reason could have been that of “some other substantial reason” (SOSR).
Dismissals that are not on the grounds of conduct, redundancy, capability or legality may be for some other substantial reason. This “label” can be used where there has been a personality clash, maybe pressure from a third party or indeed where there is the risk of reputational damage.
SOSR dismissals are not a back door, quick and easy dismissal route when an employer wants rid of an employee and can’t fit their dismissal in any of the other reasons. An employer who dismisses for a SOSR reason must demonstrate that the substantial reason, be it personality clash, damage to reputation and third-party pressure to dismiss etc is the sole or principal reason for the dismissal and that the decision to dismiss was reasonable in the circumstances.
In schools, this issue of reputational damage can be particularly pertinent with safeguarding concerns. Recent case law has gone back and forth on the fairness of SOSR dismissals where safeguarding concerns have been raised although not substantiated and the staff member still dismissed on account of reputational damage.
With safeguarding front and centre in the education sector, this is a crucial issue; how do you address safeguarding concerns? Can you dismiss a member of staff fairly, even if accusations are not substantiated? How do you balance fairness to your accused staff member against reputational concerns and parent complaints?
If you would like to discuss this further, working through case studies and discuss with other professionals in your sector, we are running an Education roundtable event – Dismissals in schools for some other substantial reason – 3 March 2022, 10 am -11 am.
You can sign up here.
A former Eton College teacher will not be sanctioned by a schools' watchdog over a lecture that stated male aggression was a biological fact. Will Knowland was sacked for refusing to remove the lecture, which he had been told not to give, from YouTube. The Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) decided to take no action following an inquiry, Mr Knowland's lawyer said. Eton College said the ruling did not undermine its decision to dismiss the English master.