Sacked Sheffield teaching assistant who called pupil ‘stupid’ claimed school had ‘personal vendetta’ against him

A Sheffield teaching assistant who claimed his primary school had a 'personal vendetta' against him has lost an unfair dismissal claim after he was sacked for 'humiliating' a young vulnerable boy by giving him a girl's name in class
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John Brelsford, who worked for St Wilfrid's Primary School in Millhouses from 2008, was never subjected to any disciplinary proceedings but complaints implicating him started to emerge in 2017.

In February 2017 then executive headteacher Andrew Truby met with Mr Brelsford after a number of parents expressed concern during a parents evening about things he had said to children in the classroom.

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According to a judgement after a tribunal employment hearing held in Leeds between September and October last year, the judge in the case heard the incident that led to Mr Brelsford's dismissal in October 2020 was when he split up his PE lesson by gender to play a game.

John Brelsford, who worked for St Wilfrid's RC Primary School in Millhouses from 2008 was never subjected to any disciplinary proceedings but complaints implicating him started to emerge in 2017.John Brelsford, who worked for St Wilfrid's RC Primary School in Millhouses from 2008 was never subjected to any disciplinary proceedings but complaints implicating him started to emerge in 2017.
John Brelsford, who worked for St Wilfrid's RC Primary School in Millhouses from 2008 was never subjected to any disciplinary proceedings but complaints implicating him started to emerge in 2017.

Since there weren't enough girls to create equal teams, some of the boys had to switch sides, which prompted him to call the boys playing on the girls' side female names.

This then left one 'vulnerable' pupil, who had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 'humiliated' and crying'.

He had subsequently called the pupil a 'baby', which caused his classmates to laugh, resulting in him becoming more upset. The school then found this to amount to a breach of the school's Behaviour Policy code of conduct.

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Called child ‘pathetic’

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Prior to this final incident that led to his dismissal, there were several other complaints from the parents against Mr Brelsford, the tribunal heard.

In February 2017, allegations surfaced that he had undermined a 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 he had 'screamed' at a child and mimicked their behaviour. An investigation meeting then took place, in which he accepted some of the allegations.

He then was asked to keep the matters confidential but accepted in evidence that he had not done so as he had spoken to a parent about one of the allegations.

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A disciplinary investigation meeting was subsequently held on March 7 that year, but no formal action was taken. Instead, a letter of advice by the school was issued.

Later that year in November, a child reported to their class teacher that Mr Brelsford had hurt their hand by squeezing it.

The tribunal also 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.

He was then suspended pending an investigation which led to him receiving a first written warning which would remain live for 12 months.

Mr Brelsford’s conduct ‘unfprofessional’ despite receiving training and warnings

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The tribunal also heard that he was accused of shouting at a pupil 'stop acting stupid' while this warning was active, resulting 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 headteacher Delia Evans said during the tribunal: "I am concerned that John doesn't see that his conduct is unprofessional and what he is doing wrong, despite previous training and warnings.”

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She recommended that the case should be considered further at a formal disciplinary hearing, which was held in January 2021.

This was when he claimed the reason he had been investigated on 11 different occasions was because there was a 'conspiracy to remove him'.

Judge: The school was not ‘desperate’ to find a way to remove him

Employment Judge Chris McAvoy-Newns threw out the claim of unfair dismissal in a judgement dated October 8 last year.

He said: “At no point did (Mr Brelsford) raise a grievance alleging that either Mr Truby or Mrs Evans held a vendetta against him. Had he genuinely believed this was the case from 2017 onwards, bearing in mind the number of conduct issues which were raised from February 2017 onwards, I find it is reasonable to expect him to have done so.

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“In conclusion, I find that (Mr Brelsford) was dismissed for conduct and not because Mr Truby or Mrs Evans held a personal vendetta towards him. Although, as can be clear from the conclusions drawn above, 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.

“In this regard there were a significant amount of incidents concerning (him) from February 2017. These concerned (his) behaviour towards children, in particular, the way he spoke to or interacted with them, the majority of which (Mr Brelsford) accepted and then subsequently agreed to change his behaviours.

“I do not believe that this suggests that the (school) was desperate to find a way to remove him from the organisation or that (they) sought to conceal this from the disciplinary panel, when it told them that there had only been three formal investigations concerning (him) prior to this date.

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“The (school) could have quite easily and reasonably given (him) formal warnings rather than management advice and, had they done so, (he) is likely to have been dismissed much sooner than he was.”

The school has been contacted for a statement.