Ripon Grammar School matron sacked after using 'draconian' early morning run as punishment

A matron at a North Yorkshire boarding school who punished pupils with an early-morning run was sacked after an “unprecedented” number of complaints were made about her behaviour and professionalism, a tribunal heard.

Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 1:31 pm
Ripon Grammar School
Ripon Grammar School

Barbara Shiells claimed she was unfairly dismissed by Ripon Grammar School in October 2020 for whistleblowing on Assistant Headteacher Caroline Day, after a pupil took a drug overdose.

But her claim was dismissed, after an employment judge accepted she had “fallen far below the standards of conduct and capability the school required”.

The tribunal heard Ms Shiells, who began working at the school in March 2020, had been accused of being rude and abrasive to Mrs Day, who was her line manager, other colleagues and pupils on numerous occasions.

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She also allegedly told one pupil “I’ve more important things to be dealing with than this”, after an incident of self harm in September 2020.

The following day, she punished six pupils for talking by sending them on an early-morning run and claimed overtime for overseeing that run. Headmaster Richard Webb later described this punishment as “draconian and outdated” and refused to approve the overtime claim.

During that month, a colleague emailed the Deputy Headteacher Helen Keelan-Edwards, to say Ms Shiells “has repeatedly shown lack of empathy, and aggressive and unfriendly behaviour towards both myself and other (sic) member of staff” in front of the pupils.

She added: “I feel fearful and threatened when walking out and about and when I am on duty in both Houses, a feeling I have never experienced before on the job.”

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Mrs Day repeatedly raised concerns about Ms Shiells’ behaviour, keeping a log of each reported incident, and said the house parent refused to meet with her on numerous occasions.

She also felt threatened by Ms Shiells and told the headmaster that she was considering quitting, as several colleagues were telling her to “watch her back”.

Ms Shiells had accused Mrs Day of failing to take anti-depressant medication off a vulnerable pupil and locking them in the main medical safe, before she took an overdose in September 2020 and was taken to hospital.

Ms Shiells, who was also on duty that night and did not remove the medication from the pupil’s room after the incident, then discussed the overdose with a gardener at the school.

She began a period of sick leave in October due to anxiety and stress, but remained in her accommodation and refused to stop mixing with students and staff in communal areas.

On October 23, Ms Shiells was told she had not reached the required standards during her probationary period and her employment would be terminated “on grounds of conduct, capability and concerns about a breakdown in her relationship with her line manager”.

Mr Webb told the tribunal she had “behaved unprofessionally” by using an early-morning run as a punishment and discussing the overdose with the gardener.

He also said she had tampered with the boarding house’s computer log, which showed who was on duty on the night of the overdose, used communal areas of the boarding school house while she was signed off sick and made an inappropriate comment to a pupil following an incident of self harm.

Ms Shiells denied wrongdoing and claimed she was sacked because she had made the allegation against her line manager.

Employment Judge Cox dismissed her claim and said Mr Webb had “a significant amount of evidence” to support his decision to dismiss her.

But the judge also noted that an internal investigation found claims that Ms Shiells had made an inappropriate comment following the self-harm incident were unsubstantiated.

The ruling states: “The Tribunal accepts Mr Webb’s evidence that it was unprecedented in his experience that so many concerns about an employee’s behaviour, attitude, professionalism and ability should be raised by a number of staff so early in the employee’s employment.

“There were a number of ways in which the Claimant had fallen far below the standards of conduct and capability the school required.”

Mrs Day also contacted North Yorkshire Police, claiming Ms Shiells had acted in a threatening way following her dismissal.

She said Ms Shiells had been walking outside her flat, on the school grounds, holding a hockey stick and “aggressively, grimacing and shaking her fists”. However, Ms Shiells denies these claims.