Does a head teacher have to reveal a non romantic relationship with someone who has been convicted of making indecent images of children?

This was at the crux of the case Reilly v Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council. In this case, the Supreme Court held that it was fair to dismiss a head teacher for her failure to disclose her relationship with someone who had committed a serious offence to her employer.

Facts of the case

Ms Reilly had a close relationship with Mr Selwood. Although the relationship was not sexual or romantic, they had bought a house together and shared a joint account to pay for the mortgage. They did not live together but she did stay over on occasion.

She applied for a position as a head teacher. Whilst going through the recruitment process, she witnessed the police arresting Mr Selwood on suspicion of having downloaded indecent images of children, but she did not reveal this to the school.

She was appointed as head teacher and a few months later, Mr Selwood was convicted. She did not inform the school’s governing body and she continued to enjoy a close relationship with Mr Selwood.

When the school discovered the conviction and her close relationship with Mr Selwood, Ms Reilly was suspended on full pay. At a disciplinary hearing, the disciplinary panel found that due to her refusal to recognise that her relationship with Mr Selwood may pose a risk to pupils and her failure to reveal it had been wrong, she has committed a serious breach of an implied term of contract and this constituted gross misconduct. She was summarily dismissed.

Ms Reilly brought claims of unfair dismissal to an Employment Tribunal, arguing that she has no obligation to disclose the information.

The Employment Tribunal concluded that her dismissal has not been unfair. She appealed to both the Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Appeal, but she was unsuccessful.

The Supreme Court’s Judgment

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal, stating ‘it was a reasonable response for the panel to have concluded that Ms Reilly’s non-disclosure not only amounted to a breach of duty but also merited her dismissal. For her refusal to accept that she had been in breach of duty suggested a continuing lack of insight which, as it was reasonable to conclude, rendered it inappropriate for her to continue to run the school’.

They noted that Ms Reilly was subject to a contractual obligation to assist the governing body in discharging the duty to safeguard children. As she was a head teacher, Ms Reilly was likely to know important information about her pupils and be able to allow visitors to enter the school premises. Her close relationship with Mr Selwood meant he was potential risk to the children at the school.

Comment

Jane Hallas, the Head of our Education team, comments ‘This is an interesting case, which falls outside of the provisions for disqualification by association as the employee didn’t live with the convicted associate. Crucial here was the fact that she was under a contractual obligation to assist the governing body in their statutory safeguarding duties, and a contractual duty to report something which was her duty to report. Schools should ensure their contracts and job descriptions align with these duties’.

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