When is a Teacher Not a Teacher? High Court Rules

In a striking example of an employment relationship being transformed over time by custom and practice, the High Court has ruled on the status of a woman who was taken on as a teacher but later metamorphosed into a full-time union representative (Davies v London Borough of Haringey).

The woman had been employed in 1992 as an assistant teacher at a comprehensive school. However, she had subsequently been released from her teaching duties to take on a new role as a senior representative of the National Union of Teachers. As a result, she had not in fact taught at the school for more than 14 years.

The local authority holding responsibility for the school purported to suspend her for alleged breaches of its code of conduct and its social media policy. However, the woman argued that it had no right to do so and that, on the basis of her employment contract, only the school's governors had the power to discipline her.

In rejecting the woman's arguments, the Court noted the length of time during which she had been away from the classroom and that her alleged misconduct did not relate in any way to the school or her teaching. The position in which she had originally been employed had in fact long ceased to exist.

The Court found that, even in the absence of formal changes to her written contract, its terms had been varied, either by express agreement or impliedly through the conduct of the parties. The reality was that she was no longer employed as a teacher and there was no legislative provision which had the effect that only the school's governing body could take disciplinary steps against her.

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