House parent told self-harming student she had ‘more important things to deal with’, tribunal hears


House parent at top grammar school told self-harming student she had ‘more important things to deal with’, tribunal hears

  • Barbara Shiells was seen as ‘rude and abrasive’, the employment tribunal heard
  • The house parent was sacked form her job at Ripon Grammar School in Yorkshire
  • The tribunal heard she had received an ‘unprecedented’ number of complaints
  • It heard the ex PE teacher and personal trainer gave out ‘draconian’ punishments
  • She claimed she was unfairly dismissed, but her claim was rejected by the judge

A house parent at a top grammar school told a self-harming student she had ‘more important things to deal with’, an employment tribunal has heard. 

Barbara Shiells was sacked rom her role at Ripon Grammar School in North Yorkshire after receiving an ‘unprecedented’ number of complaints about her ‘behaviour, attitude, professionalism and ability’.

She doled out ‘draconian’ punishments, the tribunal heard, including making students go on an early morning run, before claiming overtime for doing it. 

She was also described as ‘rude and abrasive’ by her boss, and was dismissed as deputy senior house parent less than into the role.

Ms Shiells claimed she was unfairly sacked for whistleblowing on her boss, but her claim was rejected by the employment tribunal.

The Leeds tribunal heard Ms Shiells, who previously worked as a PE teacher and personal trainer, began her new role at RGS in March 2020.

The prestigious school – which dates back as far as the Middle Ages – boasts fashion designer Bruce Oldfield, Top Gear’s Richard Hammond and former Secretary of State William Hague amongst its ‘Old Riponians’ alumni.

Barbara Shiells was dismissed from her job at Rippon Grammar School (pictured) less than a year after joining

Barbara Shiells was dismissed from her job at Rippon Grammar School (pictured) less than a year after joining

The co-educational school, which has boarding fees of up to £13,600 per term, has also been named the top-performing state school in the North of England nine years running by The Sunday Times.

The tribunal heard Ms Shiells’ first day was on March 16, 2020 – the day the first national Covid lockdown began in the UK.

She busied herself by making changes to the girls’ boarding house and first met her line manager, Caroline Day, in July.

The tribunal was told Mrs Day was the school’s new Deputy Boarding Headteacher and Housemistress in both the boys’ and girls’ boarding houses.

Mrs Day moved into a boarding house flat in August, with her husband and disabled son, and told the tribunal her and Ms Shiells’ relationship immediately began to deteriorate.

Late that month Ms Shiells was ‘rude and abrasive’ during a meeting, and tried to ‘undermine’ Dr Mariarita Martino, the Deputy Senior Houseparent of the boys’ boarding house.

On her first official day on September 1, Mrs Day held an induction meeting with boarding staff, during which Ms Shiells interrupted and disagreed with her presentation.

Ms Shiells then left during a health and safety presentation from the school’s premises manager, saying she had ‘somewhere to be’.

Pupils began arriving at the boarding house in early September for the start of the school year.

During a training session the school’s special needs coordinator gave a presentation which included information about a student with special needs.

The pupil, named only as Pupil A, was described as having ‘social, emotional and mental health needs’ and an ‘anxiety disorder’.

The following week, Pupil A reported Ms Shiells had gone into her bedroom to ask if she was ‘OK now’, after she self-harmed two days before.

When she answered ‘Yes’, Ms Shiells told her ‘Good, as I’ve more important things to be dealing with than this’.

The pupil reported the issue to Mrs Day, who regarded the comment as ‘inappropriate, lacking empathy’ and was ‘unprofessional’.

The following day, the tribunal was told Ms Shiells gave six pupils the punishment of an early morning run for talking the previous evening, which breached the school’s behaviour policies.

The teacher then claimed overtime for implementing the harsh punishment, the tribunal heard.

Four days later, when Pupil A returned to school after spending the weekend at home, no member of staff collected her anti-depression medication from her.

An employment tribunal in Leeds (pictured) dismissed her claim that she was unfairly sacked for whistleblowing on her boss

An employment tribunal in Leeds (pictured) dismissed her claim that she was unfairly sacked for whistleblowing on her boss

The following day Pupil A told Mrs Day she had taken an overdose. An ambulance was called, but the drugs were not removed from the room by either Mrs Day – who collected the pupil’s shoes – or by Ms Shiells, who later checked on her room mate.

The medication was found in the room by another member of staff the following day.

Ms Shiells later sent an email to Deputy Headteacher Marita Murray about Mrs Day’s failure to collect the medication.

The tribunal was also told Ms Shiells told a gardener at the school about the overdose incident.

At the end of the month Ms Shiells met with headteacher Jonathan Webb to discuss concerns about her behaviour, including her comment towards Pupil A and her running punishment.

Mr Webb concluded the running sanction to be ‘draconian’ and ‘outdated’, and refused the overtime claim she had made for administering the sanction.

In October Ms Shiells began a period of sick leave due to ‘anxiety’ and ‘stress’, but remained in her accommodation and disobeyed Mrs Day’s instructions for her not be among students and staff in communal areas.

Later the same month Mr Webb told Ms Shiells she had not reached the required standards during her probationary period and decided to let her go due to her conduct and her fallout with line manager, Mrs Day.

Ms Shiells took RGS to an employment tribunal, arguing she had been unfairly dismissed after making ‘protected disclosures’ about Mrs Day surrounding the overdose incident.

But Employment Judge Susan Cox dismissed her claims, stating it was rare an employee who had been in a job for such a short period to have been complained about so much.

Judge Cox said: ‘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 Ms Shiells had fallen far below the standards of conduct and capability RGS required.

‘Not only were her protected disclosures not the principal reason for Ms Shiells’ dismissal, they formed no part of Mr Webb’s decision-making.

‘Her claim that she was unfairly dismissed therefore fails.’

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