Schools

Award-winning head Pepe Hart banned over bullying claims

Ex-head Pepe Hart was banned from teaching for at least two years after being found guilty of bullying, intimidating and mocking staff

Ex-head Pepe Hart was banned from teaching for at least two years after being found guilty of bullying, intimidating and mocking staff

5 Dec 2022, 15:11

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An award-winning headteacher has been banned from the profession for at least two years after a standards panel found her guilty of bullying, intimidating and mocking staff.

Mahzia ‘Pepe’ Hart won several national awards as headteacher of Trinity Church School in Radstock, Somerset, before her resignation in 2015 after allegations first hit the headlines.

A Teaching Regulation Agency panel ruled that she had bullied staff over their maternity rights and job references, and said sickness was not acceptable. It found she also mimicked and made inappropriate comments about colleagues.

Some 25 specific allegations against her were found “not proved” however, and the TRA’s published judgement said 11 others were withdrawn by regulators before the verdict.

The former head said in a statement she continued to “strongly refute” the claims against her, vowing to appeal some TRA findings and set “matters straight” at a separate High Court case next year.

Hart has taken legal action against the National Education Union, accusing it of “conspiracy to injure” and a “witch hunt” in its handling of staff grievances against her. But the panel did not accept Hart’s case that staff posts in private Facebook groups showed “conspiracy to fabricate evidence”.

Staff ‘bullied over maternity rights’

The government issued the prohibition order after an independent panel ruled her actions could “bring the profession into disrepute”, with a pattern of behaviour “incompatible with being a teacher”.

The TRA panel ruling published today said she had shown no remorse or “insight”, but she should have the “earliest possible opportunity” to show it after two years – at which point the ban will be reviewed.

It highlighted the “large number of very positive testimonials” and her ability to make an “exceptional contribution” to education.

The TRA’s findings include that Hart “bullied staff in relation to the exercise of their maternity rights and access to a reference for future employment”, and had stated “on occasions that sickness was not acceptable”.

Schools Week previously reported on former Trinity Church School teacher Stacey Broad’s evidence to the hearing.

She claimed Hart had told her in 2013 to stop “flaunting” her pregnant belly, did not let her attend maternity appointments and questioned whether she got pregnant as teaching was “too difficult”.

Meanwhile some staff faced “unreasonable pressure” to increase their working hours, according to the panel.

It said there were “numerous examples of Mrs Hart being abusive about members of staff to other members of staff”, both verbally and by text.

The panel ruled she had called someone a “mood hoover,” another colleague “pathetic and soulless” or words to that effect, and referred to staff as “trash”, “fat,” “thick” or “weak” or words to that effect. It also said she had suggested someone was a lesbian as she was “always touching everyone”.

Some teachers gave evidence that her behaviour resulted in them “not wanting to stay in the profession”, the verdict states.

The panel claimed Hart displayed a “deep-seated attitude that led to harmful and bullying behaviour”.

But Hart was cleared of multiple allegations, including mocking a boy of dual heritage, mocking a pupil in assembly, and mimicking a child with special educational needs. Some claims by staff were dismissed as they lacked corroborating evidence.

Hart hopes to ‘set matters straight’

The allegations against Hart first attracted significant attention in 2015 after staff spoke to the media, and her success securing an apology over comments by an NEU member in 2017 attracted national coverage.

More than 500 people signed a recent petition entitled “Justice for Pepe Hart”. 

Hart said in a statement her dedication to children was “undisputed, even by the TRA and their own witnesses”, and she “consistently had the best intentions for “children, parents and staff alike”.

She claimed that considerable witness and testimony evidence had been “disregarded”, and that no grievances were raised while she was headteacher.

She is separately seeking at least £100,000 damages from the NEU and one of its officials, highlighting lost income and prestige as she claims she was “forced to resign”.

“I look forward to the opportunity to setting matters straight at trial next year.”

She had hoped the TRA case could be delayed until after her separate legal action had concluded, so witness credibility could be assessed by a “proper experienced High Court judge instead”.

An NEU spokesperson previously called Hart’s bid for compensation “vexatious”, calling it “bizarre” to claim “basic trade unionism is an unlawful conspiracy”.

Hart also criticised the “extraordinarily long period” and “massive public expense” it had taken to reach a TRA judgement. But she said the panel “did at least get one thing right” in dismissing so many allegations against her.

One of her supporters has shared a screenshot suggesting the case against her had cost almost £400,000.

The panel itself acknowledged the case covered events “some years ago”, and that this made it harder for witnesses to remember and Hart to defend herself. 

The panel gave their verdict after hearing oral evidence testifying against Hart from 15 ex-colleagues – as well as another 15 individuals who testified alongside her in her defence. It noted “significant conflicts in evidence between witnesses”, as well as “extremely polarised positions” and “emotive language”.

Hart herself had been dubbed “evil” by a teacher on a private Facebook group. One of her witnesses used the same word to describe those testifying against her, the panel said.

Schools Week has approached the Department for Education and NEU for comment.

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