A Dundee teacher was not unfairly dismissed for her lengthy absences at a poorly performing school.
The city council decided that Joyce Cuthbert could not be kept in her post as support for learning teacher at St Andrew’s RC Primary School, where she had 175 days off over six years.
An employment tribunal in the city heard matters came to a head after Avril Barnett, the primary education manager, was sent into the school as acting head.
She arrived in June 2012 after a poor report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education which identified various issues including the needs of children requiring learning support.
The school in St Leonard Place was judged weak in four different categories by the inspectorate including meeting learning needs.
The HMI report sparked complaints from parents but the acting head led a recovery and the most recent inspection has seen an improvement.
Mrs Cuthbert suffered from chronic depression which qualified under legislation as a disability. It was a condition that flared up and left her unable to do normal daily activities.
She was absent for more than 100 days through depression and a further 75 days for other reasons between 2008 and 2013. In November 2012 she agreed to cover another class without her raising the possibility that it may cause her stress.
She went off ill, however, and her absence put her through the barrier for referral to the head of department. She tried to return in February 2013 but admitted this was ill-advised and she was referred to occupational health.
Her absence due to depression continued and the situation escalated until she was dismissed.
The letter that broke the news said her absences had a significant impact on service delivery and capacity at St Andrew’s, which had had a challenging year.
The workload of other teachers had increased and the learning of pupils had been disrupted. The council thought it had done all it could to support Mrs Cuthbert but her position was not getting any better.
Mrs Cuthbert claimed she was discriminated against on grounds of her disability but the tribunal disagreed. She had been dismissed on grounds of capability as she could not sustain an acceptable level of absences.
There was no evidence she was disadvantaged any more than an employee without chronic depression in similar circumstances.
Continuity of teaching was of great importance and teacher absence was not conducive to the education process, the tribunal ruled.
The council followed its managing absence procedure and Mrs Cuthbert’s absence far exceeded trigger points. Tribunal judge JD Young said dismissal was not unfair.