A landmark court ruling on a headteacher’s failure to disclose her relationship with a convicted sex offender could mean school staff will be asked to reveal more about their private lives in future, legal experts have warned.
The Court of Appeal recently quashed the unnamed former headteacher’s bid to overturn her dismissal in 2011, when governors learned of her connection with a man convicted of making indecent images of children.
Under current rules on disqualification by association, school staff working with children under the age of eight are legally required to inform their employer if they live with anyone ever convicted of certain crimes, including sexual offences.
In this case, tribunals were told that the pair had bought a property together, but that the head did not live there, though she had holidayed with the man following his conviction in 2010.
The government is currently consulting on scrapping these rules for schools, but Michelle Gray, partner and head of education at Berg Solicitors, told Schools Week that the ruling could actually mean greater responsibilities for school staff, even if the rules are axed.
“A Court of Appeal decision is binding on the lower courts,” said Gray, “so if there were another instance of a head who was dismissed for failing to disclose a relationship with someone with a conviction, then the LA or governing body would rely on this judgment”.
Gray warned the judgment would now “widen the obligation” on anybody working with younger children to disclose relationships with those convicted of more serious crimes, and urged staff to consult their school’s governing body for advice if in doubt.
The headteacher in question, whose identity has not been revealed, was dismissed five years ago after governors discovered her connection with a man subject to a sexual offences prevention order, which prohibits unsupervised contact with children.
There is no suggestion the man had any contact with pupils, but Gray said the appeal had focused on whether or not the head
had a legal duty to report the relationship – even though such a responsibility is not set out in legislation, and was not in her contract.
“The decision was based on the fact that they say there was an implied term in her contract, which they say amounts to a legal duty,” Gray told Schools Week. “It was that issue which she was suspended, and ultimately dismissed, on.
“Gray added that an “implied term of trust and confidence” was common in contracts of school staff, and said the duty became “more onerous” for staff as they became more senior in schools.