Former superhead may be stripped of knighthood

The government’s forfeiture committee is investigating whether to strip a former superhead of his knighthood.

It comes after it was revealed that Sir Craig Tunstall is suing Lambeth Council for at least £200,000 over claims that an “excessive workload”, exacerbated by plans to open a new free school, left him depressed.

Tunstall, formerly England’s best-paid primary headteacher, on £367,000 a year, was dismissed from the council-maintained Gipsy Hill Federation in 2018 for “gross misconduct”.

He was suspended in May 2017 amid a council fraud investigation and is now launching legal acting to sue Lambeth Council and GHF.

An email sent from the Cabinet Office to a complainant in late February, seen by Schools Week, states its honours forfeiture committee was “aware” of the case and had “previously commissioned the Department of [sic] Education to provide advice on the matter”.

The email states that “a decision on revocation of his honour will be taken in due course”.

Both departments said there was nothing to add this week when contacted for comment. The Cabinet Office also said it would not comment on an individual.

The forfeiture committee’s website states it “considers cases put to it when the holder of an honour has brought the honours system into disrepute”.

Examples include those found guilty of a criminal offence or censured by a regulatory or professional body.

Lawyers representing Tunstall in the case against Lambeth Council did not respond to a request for comment.

The disclosure comes after papers submitted to the high court show Tunstall is pursuing both Lambeth Council and the federation for damages over claims of negligence and breach of contract. The papers state the claim is in “excess of £200,000”.

Tunstall’s lawyers and the council did not respond to a request for comment on what the actual sum being sought was, which could turn out to be a lot higher.

As the case as in the civil courts, the amount of potential compensation is uncapped – meaning if Tunstall wins the case, the court will take into account his future loss of earnings when awarding damages. Lambeth Council said the claims will be “vigorously defended”.

In the court papers, Tunstall’s representative, Asela Wijeyaratne, said plans to academise the federation’s eight schools in 2016, on top of his other responsibilities, “resulted in workload and work pressure which was too great”.

This included setting up a new secondary free school which, as he was the “public face of the projects”, led to Tunstall being “subject to intense and often hostile and confrontational interactions at such meetings”.

Tunstall was responsible overall for eight headteachers, 36 deputy heads and 600 members of staff, and he was required to respond to incidents of “actual or threatened violence” towards teachers, as well as prepare for Ofsted inspections, the documents state.

His role required him to work long and unsocial hours during evenings, weekends and school holidays. He was also given less than a week’s notice before becoming executive headteacher of each school, the papers add.

Wijeyaratne also argues Tunstall was “unlawfully dismissed” and continues to suffer with sleeplessness, nightmares and depression. He says Tunstall is unable to work.

The documents state Tunstall should either not have been given the academisation project, or should have been relieved of his headship responsibilities until completed.

Tunstall has also issued papers for a separate employment tribunal on claims he was unfairly dismissed and for damages.

In March 2017, Tunstall was asked to attend an interview with Lambeth Council’s internal counter-fraud team, held under caution. Tunstall said he was given no prior warning, and did not know it was part of an investigation into himself.

Two months later, Tunstall was suspended from employment. He did not attend a disciplinary hearing later that year, for reasons including the ongoing fraud investigation and the impact it would have on his health.

In his absence, the panel found “gross misconduct” and dismissed him. An appeal by Tunstall was rejected.

Wijeyaratne said the Lambeth investigation and disciplinary process were flawed and “injurious” to Tunstall’s health.

Tunstall’s anxiety is also continuing because he does not know whether the council intends to refer its findings for criminal prosecution, the papers claim.

They also claim there was a “failure” to protect Tunstall from dealing with press “intrusion”, including failing to provide an “adequate formal statement to the press” concerning his pay.

In 2018, Lambeth Council refused a request by Schools Week under the Freedom of Information Act to provide a copy of its investigation into Tunstall.

The council said this would breach the Data Protection Act and “could cause distress to the individuals”.