A DEPUTY headteacher who was sacked after being deemed to be incapable of doing his job because of ill-health has had his case for unfair dismissal thrown out by a judge.

An employment tribunal was told how Martin Connolly had been dismissed from his role as deputy head and year six teacher at St Michael and St John’s RC Primary School, Clitheroe, in December 2018 following a period of sick leave due to stress, which he said was brought about questioning of his capability and performance.

The tribunal, in Manchester, heard Mr Connolly had been employed by the school since 2006 but issues were raised in May 2013 when St Michael and St John’s was judged to 'require improvement' by Ofsted inspectors.

A new headteacher, Zoe Mabbott, was appointed the following January and Mr Connolly, along with other staff members, was told his performance needed to improve.

In 2015 the school was rated 'good', with praise being given to the senior leadership team which included Mr Connolly. However in its last rating in 2019, the school slipped back to 'requiring improvement'.

In 2016 Mr Connolly was praised for his outstanding lessons. However Mrs Mabbott still had concerns over his performance and set him specific targets through the appraisal process for the academic year 2016/17.

Mrs Mabbott became increasingly concerned following further observations and in July 2017, a support plan was put in place. A capability meeting was held in October 2017 after Mrs Mabbott raised concerns that she was not seeing the required improvement in Mr Connolly's performance.

A further observation took place in the following weeks, with Mrs Mabbott accompanied by a local authority schools’ advisor. They both agreed that the lesson was not to the standard expected and so Mr Connolly was invited to a meeting in January 2018 to discuss his capability.

Mrs Mabbott outlined her concerns but Mr Connolly was signed off for the following two weeks with a respiratory tract infection.

He was issued with a formal written warning and it was explained that failure to improve to a satisfactory standard within a set period could result in action being taken on grounds of incapability, including his dismissal.

He returned to work in late January 2018 and an appeal hearing against the written warning was held in March.

Mr Connolly left that meeting after complaining about the presence of Mrs Mabbott, with the ultimate outcome of the hearing being that the written warning was upheld.

Having left work due to stress on the day of the meeting Mr Connolly was referred to occupational health in April 2018, who deemed him to be 'unfit for work and his full duties' and couldn't provide a timeframe for his return.

On June 4, 2018 a sickness review meeting was held, with Mrs Mabbott raising concerns about the impact his absence was having and outlined plans to place him into teaching year 4 from September 2018, which would avoid the added pressure of standard attainment tests (SATs).

However, she did say the capability procedure would continue, as the capability issues related to general teaching and his role as deputy head.

Mrs Mabbott confirmed that she had referred matters to the school’s attendance and dismissal committee, as she believed that Mr Connolly’s continuing absence was having "a negative impact on the continuity of education, the school budget and a burden to colleagues".

Two weeks later Mr Connolly wrote a letter of grievance to the school governors, alleging unfair treatment, bullying, harassment and discrimination by Mrs Mabbott.

The attendance meeting took place in September 2018, with Mrs Mabbott providing a report which "explained the impact of the claimant’s absence on the school which included the financial impact; the impact on the children (the year 6 class had had seven different supply teachers and had achieved its lowest SATs scores); and extra responsibilities for other staff members".

In response, Mr Connolly said his stress was caused by Mrs Mabbott placing unnecessary demands on him, that it remained a mystery as to why he had been placed on the capability procedure and that he could give no guarantee of being ready to return to work on October 1 when his sick note expired.

The outcome was that Mr Connolly was dismissed, with his dismissal to take effect at the end of the term, on December 31, 2018. At that stage he had missed 16 weeks of teaching, having been absent since March on full pay.

Four days after the hearing Mr Connolly went to see his GP, who wrote to governors to say that he could not see any reason why the claimant could not work. Mr Connolly also submitted a fit note to say he could return to work from October 1.

Two weeks later Mr Connolly attended a meeting with Mrs Mabbott and said he felt “a bit better because the resolution at the meeting alleviated some of the stress.”

Mr Connolly appealed against the decision to dismiss him, and a hearing was held in December 2018.

In a report occupational health raised concerns that Mr Connolly’s "mental well-being could deteriorate resulting in further absence if the claimant felt that he remained under unnecessary pressures".

Mrs Mabbott confirmed that she would be prepared to put the capability process on hold for the period of any phased return but that it would not be possible to withdraw that process altogether.

When it was put to him by the governors that it would be highly likely that he could not remain in work if the capability procedures continued, Mr Connolly replied: "Yes, it would be unlikely that I would be able to stay."

The appeal was rejected on December 19.

Employment Judge Helen Rice-Birchall ruled that Mr Connolly 's dismissal was fair.

She added: "The tribunal is satisfied that, taking into account all of the above circumstances, dismissal was a response falling within the range of reasonable responses open to a reasonable employer. The respondent was entitled to conclude that the claimant would not be capable of a sustained return to work.

"In all the circumstances of the case (including the size and administrative resources of the employer), the respondent acted reasonably in treating the claimant’s capability as sufficient reason for dismissing him."