Schools

Ex-head faces bullying probe amid court battle with teaching union

Mahzia 'Pepe' Hart faces a second investigation after allegedly intimidating staff, but accuses the NEU of harassing her

Mahzia 'Pepe' Hart faces a second investigation after allegedly intimidating staff, but accuses the NEU of harassing her

16 Sep 2022, 12:42

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An award-winning former headteacher embroiled in a High Court battle with the National Education Union faced a professional misconduct panel this week.

Mahzia “Pepe” Hart could be banned from teaching if found guilty of intimidating staff, bullying pregnant teachers, inappropriate comments and mocking pupils.

The Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) hearing follows a second watchdog investigation into Hart in six years, with the first resulting in no further action.

Hart accuses NEU of ‘harassment’

The former head of Trinity Church School in Radstock, Somerset, who resigned in 2015, has alleged a “witch hunt”.

She has publicly criticised the TRA on Twitter, and is currently suing the National Education Union (NEU) and its regional district secretary David Biddleston. She accused him of inciting union members to complain, motivated partly by anti-academy sentiment.

The “unlawful conspiracy” and “harassment” forced her to resign, causing “upset and anxiety” and the loss of income and prestige, she wrote in court documents. The NEU disputes the claims.

The TRA panel is now ruling on allegations referred by the then National Union of Teachers in 2017.

Questioning why it had not referred her in either 2015 or 2016, Hart claimed the NUT’s action was “retaliation” after another legal action in 2017. She had won an apology from one ex-teacher and NUT member in a defamation case.

Hart is also reported to have taken legal action since against Bath and North East Somerset Council, which her legal documents say made the first referral to the regulator in 2016.

Claims head bullied pregnant staff

Hart had won a national newspaper  “teacher of the year” award in 2008, and a “manager of the year” gong six years later.

She became Trinity’s head in 2009, notching up “outstanding” Ofsted ratings in 2009 and 2013. It became one of the first primary academies in 2011.

But by December 2015 she had resigned after local media reported staff and parental criticisms, and what she later dubbed “appalling social media abuse”.

Almost seven years later, a five-week misconduct hearing in Coventry is underway into more than 50 alleged incidents.

Former employee Stacey Broad claimed on Wednesday that Hart had told her in 2013 to stop “flaunting” her pregnant belly, not let her attend maternity appointments and questioned whether she got pregnant as teaching was “too difficult”.

She accused Hart of saying sick days were “not acceptable” and staff should not expect Sundays off.

Hart’s lawyer, Simon Smith, denied the claims. He questioned why, if it was a “toxic, hostile environment”, the teacher invited Hart to her wedding and returned to work at Trinity a second time in 2015. Broad said both reflected Hart’s “manipulation”, and she had hoped things would change.

Smith also questioned whether the teacher’s critical posts in a Facebook group about Hart, including saying she wanted to “punch her”, amounted to bullying. The witness said they had been private conversations among “traumatised” teachers.

Another former employee, Cindy James, called her time at Trinity “horrendous”, accusing Hart of “intimidating” behaviour. She alleged Hart said her class would be “better off” without twins with special educational needs, and mimicked a pupil she dubbed a “mini-Nelson Mandela”.

Smith said these claims were “not true”. He noted the former employee’s contact with the NUT, and that the witness compiled a grievance document after only a “very short time” working under Hart.

NEU slams Hart’s ‘bizarre’ compensation claim

Further allegations against Hart include calling colleagues “fat”, “thick”, “trash”, “soulless”, “pathetic” and dubbing one a “mood Hoover”. She is accusd of mimicking a pupil with special educational needs, “threatening” staff that they might not find work elsewhere and putting “dishonest” pressure on one employee to change a statement to the police.

At one point in the hearing Hart appeared distressed and said the hearing was “not right”, and that she had spent £250,000 of her “children’s money” defending herself over seven years.

An NEU spokesperson called Hart’s bid for compensation “vexatious”, calling it “bizarre” to claim “basic trade unionism is an unlawful conspiracy”. It referred Hart only after the libel case to “avoid any suggestion” the two were linked.

Hart and her witnesses are yet to give evidence. The case continues.

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  1. This article is full of lies and deceit. I worked with Pepe for 10 years and she was kind, compassionate and supportive to everyone in the school community. The children adored her and the school was a happy, vibrant place full of love and joy. This witch-hunt years later is cruel and malicious. The witnesses don’t want to be there and are having to be summoned. I really hope the journalist is present for the rest of the hearing to hear what we’ve got to say.