Schools

DfE academy troubleshooter banned from teaching for ‘bullying’ staff

Teaching Regulation Agency panel finds Sarah Gillett 'engineered' redundancy 'in retaliation' for grievance

Teaching Regulation Agency panel finds Sarah Gillett 'engineered' redundancy 'in retaliation' for grievance

A government academy troubleshooter has been banned from teaching after “bullying” staff with “vicious and venomous” language and telling them their mortgages depended on performance. 

Sarah Gillett, former chief executive at ACE Schools Multi Academy Trust, was also found by the Teaching Regulation Agency to have been dishonest about holding a Master’s degree.

Gillett, pictured, was the CEO of the alternative provision trust between June 2016 and July 2019. The trust made a referral to the TRA in September 2019 after concerns were raised about her conduct.

ACE was previously brought in by the government to help with school improvement at three pupil referral units run by the scandal-hit Schools Company Trust in 2017 before they were rebrokered.

In 2019, the trust was also considered as a potential sponsor to take over three Steiner academies and the Glendinning House Special Free School, in Devon.

The TRA panel decision document, published today, said Gillett was “a highly skilled and driven individual”, but there were certain aspects of her leadership style that the witnesses stated were “unacceptable and amounted to bullying”. 

CEO used ‘vicious and venomous’ language

One witness alleged Gillett said she would “get rid” of a staff member who had complained about her, and also said “revenge is sweet”.

The panel found Gillett had threatened the dismissal of the witness and “engineered” his redundancy “in retaliation” for the grievance. 

The TRA panel also found Gillett told staff they had let ACE down and were wasting taxpayers’ money when a school achieved a ‘good’ rather than ‘outstanding’ Ofsted grade. 

A witness said Gillett told staff their mortgages were depending on staff performance. The panel found it was likely Gillett told staff “I love ya, but I am coming for ya” and that she wanted to dismiss staff “who had let you down” during meetings. 

One witness said Gillett said to them that “if you don’t make [person] redundant I will and then the trust would decide whether or not your school needs a head teacher or not”, which the panel found was likely to be true.

Another witness said during a middle managers meeting in March 2019, Gillett said if staff did not like working for the trust then “we can all fuck off”. Several years earlier, she had previously allegedly said staff were “useless fuckers”.

The panel found it likely Gillett “aggressively responded” to staff members if concerns were raised and created an environment where “staff felt they were not able to raise concerns”. 

Witnesses said Gillett used words that were “vicious”, “venomous” and threatening. 

But she likely displayed “nepotism” towards others, by asking a staff member to change a classroom observation rating for one employee.

Gillett demonstrated ‘bullying behaviour’

Gillett did admit how she “inappropriately” told one person they were “tiresome”, “immature and plain petty” after they asked for training and support. She had expressed remorse about this but tried to “justify the circumstances that led to her sending it”. 

While Gillett denied being a bully, the panel found she chose to “avert blame on to others for her wrong doing”. They said her behaviour more likely than not “constituted bullying”. 

Gillett also enrolled on a master’s course in education in 2016-17 but withdrew before completing the qualification.

The panel said she knew her CV incorrectly stated she held the qualification and knew “that misleading information had been placed on the trust’s website and communicated” to the Department of Education. 

Four further allegations were found not proven. These included favouritism towards an apprentice, and showing nepotism by allowing a person to not comply with a fire drill.

The panel concluded Gillett had demonstrated “bullying behaviour and also acted dishonestly”. 

“The witnesses called by the TRA recalled to the panel about the adverse impact of Mrs Gillett’s behaviour on their health and wellbeing.” 

The government banned Gillett from teaching indefinitely. She can apply for this to be revoked in five years time.

Gillett declined to comment when approached by Schools Week.

In 2020, Schools Week reported how spending “weaknesses” were found at the trust amid an “overuse of petty cash”.

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  1. Ihatebullies

    The lying about qualifications is the clincher here – the bullying and unprofessional behaviour mentioned would probably have been ignored, but for the “lying on the CV” !!!!! – and she would have been promoted further by the DfE, and others – as a “strong manager” !!!!