Teaching assistant who claimed school had a ‘vendetta’ against him after he was sacked for ‘humiliating’ boy he gave a girl’s name and called child ‘pathetic’ loses tribunal
A teaching assistant who claimed his primary school had a ‘vendetta’ against him after he was sacked for ‘humiliating’ a young boy by giving him a girl’s name in class has lost an unfair dismissal claim.
John Brelsford split up his PE lesson at a school in North Yorkshire by gender to play a game, but there weren’t enough girls to create equal teams so some of the boys had to switch sides, an employment tribunal heard.
Mr Brelsford then started calling the boys who were playing on the girls’ side female names, the hearing was told, leaving one ‘vulnerable’ pupil, who had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), ‘humiliated’ and ‘crying’.
After he got upset the TA called him a ‘baby’ in front of his classmates.
Following the incident Mr Brelsford was sacked as he had already been warned following previous complaints about his behaviour from parents and staff.
The tribunal heard he had previously called pupils ‘stupid’ and ‘pathetic’, ‘screamed’ and ‘shouted’ at them, and also googled ‘Gingerphobia’ in front of his class which resulted in a child with red hair being teased by their classmates.
Mr Brelsford claimed he was sacked due to a ‘vendetta’ against him, but the tribunal threw out his claim of unfair dismissal ruling he could have been sacked ‘much sooner than he was’.
The tribunal heard Mr Brelsford worked at St Wilfrid’s Primary School, a Catholic voluntary aided academy in the cathedral city of Ripon
The tribunal heard Mr Brelsford worked at St Wilfrid’s Primary School, a Catholic voluntary aided academy in the cathedral city of Ripon.
In February 2017 headteacher Andrew Truby met with Mr Brelsford after a number of parents expressed concern during a parents evening about things the teaching assistant had said to children in the classroom.
These included allegations he had undermined their child’s confidence by publicly collecting test scores, commenting that the child did not know their times tables and saying that it was ‘pathetic’ if a child did not receive double figures in their test.
It was also alleged at around this time that Mr Brelsford had ‘screamed’ at a child and mimicked their behaviour.
In November 2017 a child reported to their class teacher that Mr Brelsford had hurt their hand by squeezing it.
The next month a parent reported their child was ‘a bit upset’ about something which happened in class.
The tribunal heard Mr Brelsford was teaching a lesson about Vikings when he made an internet search for ‘Gingerphobia’. This led to a child in the class with red hair being teased by his classmates and getting upset.
Mr Brelsford was suspended pending an investigation which led to him receiving a first written warning which would remain live for 12 months.
The tribunal in Leeds heard Mr Brelsford was then accused of shouting at a pupil ‘ stop acting stupid’ while this warning was active.
This resulted in him getting a final written warning to remain on his file for two years.
In July 2019, a written complaint was submitted by a parent against Mr Brelsford about his behaviour at a sports day, when he allegedly allowed too many runners to take part in a race, resulting in children being at risk of getting hurt.
No formal action was taken but he was handed another letter of advice by the school.
The final incident which led to Mr Brelsford being sacked came in October 2020.
The tribunal heard he was running a PE lesson when he ‘spoke to the children in an unprofessional manner which resulted in children feeling upset or humiliated and one vulnerable male child – referred to as ‘G’ – crying’. The tribunal heard ‘G’ had ADHD.
Mr Brelsford separated the children into boys and girls teams but, because there were insufficient girls, he asked some of the boys to act as girls.
In doing so he gave the boys ‘girls names’ which upset ‘G’. Mr Brelsford then called G a ‘baby’ which caused his classmates to laugh, resulting in him becoming more upset. The school considered this to amount to a breach of its Behaviour Policy and Code of Conduct.
The then headteacher Delia Evans said: ‘I am concerned that John doesn’t see that his conduct is unprofessional and what he is doing wrong, despite previous training and warnings’.
She recommended that the case should be considered further at a formal disciplinary hearing.
This was held in January 2021, when Mr Brelsford claimed the reason he had been investigated on 11 different occasions was because there was a ‘conspiracy to remove him’. He was sacked the following day.
Employment Judge Chris McAvoy-Newns threw out the claim of unfair dismissal.
He added: ‘I find that [Mr Brelsford] was dismissed for conduct and not because Mr Truby or Mrs Evans held a personal vendetta towards him.
‘Although there are some suggestions that Mr Truby was losing patience with him a long time before January 2021, had there been such a vendetta, I find that it is likely that they would have escalated the dismissal process much more quickly than they did.
‘There were a significant amount of incidents concerning [Mr Brelsford] from February 2017. These concerned [his] behaviour towards children, in particular, the way he spoke to or interacted with them…
‘Although none of the incidents giving rise to the disciplinary warnings were precisely the same, they all followed the same theme and concerned [Mr Brelsford’s] conduct with children which the [school] considered to be inappropriate.’