School leaders at Wymondham College say no mediation measures used to heal rift between ICT staff

New Wymondham College principal Jonathan Taylor

New Wymondham College principal Jonathan Taylor - Credit: Archant

Senior team members at a boarding school have been criticised for waiting three months to dismiss a member of its ICT department who was causing 'tensions' among his colleagues.

Ashrad Ali, former director of e-learning at Wymondham College, was dismissed on December 11, 2015 after raising concerns about the way ICT exams were handled for GCSE and A-level pupils, including issues with grading and too many hours being allowed for controlled assessments.

However an employment tribunal in Bury St Edmunds has heard this week his behaviour towards other staff in the department and an unwillingness to work with them, particularly its head, Kim Williams, led to an 'irretrievable' breakdown in relationships.

Jonathan Taylor, principal of the Sapientia Education Trust-run academy, said this breakdown within the department was the reason for Mr Ali's dismissal rather than his allegations of cheating.

In the final day of the tribunal, Tina Smith, the school's head of human resources, admitted there had been tension in the department before Mr Ali's arrival, but said the situation before his dismissal was 'the worst case of a dysfunctional department we have ever had'.

Mr Ali had approached her with concerns about his relationship with Mrs Williams in September 2015, but she said she 'didn't know the full extent of the issues' until reading a report from independent investigator Deborah Ives. This report followed one from Louise Sowden, who concluded the school needed to take 'urgent action'.

Liam Varnan, representing Mr Ali, questioned why no mediatory measures had been implemented to resolve the disputes in the ICT department before the decision was taken to sack Mr Ali.

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Edward Kemp, representing the school, said: 'Mr Taylor considered mediation as an alternative, but didn't do it because he didn't think Mr Ali would agree to it.'

Mrs Smith said: 'The reports told us there had been an irretrievable breakdown within the department – for mediation to work all members of staff would need to be up for that.'

However, she conceded that 'mediation could have been an option'.

Mrs Smith claimed she had not known about the allegations of cheating raised by Mr Ali after reading Mrs Sowden's report in October, despite its conclusion that 'on a number of occasions Mr Ali appears to have suggested coursework or assessment marks were changed improperly'.

Chairman George Sigworth will deliver his verdict on whether or not Mr Ali's whistleblowing was the cause of his dismissal at a later date.