Teaching pair fight sacking for pupil jibes

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Two teachers sacked from a special needs school for saying a pupil looked like Peter Pan on a social networking site - then joking about taking him to the top of the town hall to see if he could fly - have begun an unfair dismissal claim.

Teacher Sandra Barnes and teaching assistant Sarah Carter were among four staff fired from Barnsley’s Greenacres school in 2010 after comments on Facebook came to the attention of head Susan Hayter.

They claim they were unfairly dismissed from the school, which teaches 170 special needs pupils.

A Sheffield employment tribunal heard Ms Hayter was ‘horrified’ at the comments and thought they were ‘unprofessional and inappropriate’.

Her main cause for concern was a comment feed that began ‘ouch my ears hurt’, the court heard.

In it, at least four members of staff - Mrs Barnes, Ms Carter, Rachel Mayes and Jo Carr - discussed a hard day at work and a noisy pupil.

One posted: “You know how he looks like Peter Pan, shall we take him to the top of the town hall and see if he can fly.”

Following comments included ‘we may have to do a risk assessment’ and ‘it would be a right laugh”.

There were also posts saying: “Bless him, bless him. I could kill him.” Another, attributed to Mrs Barnes said: “We can sell tickets, a brill drama.”

Ms Hayter told the hearing: “One set of parents came to me extremely distressed because they thought the article referred to their son who had been taught by Mrs Barnes.”

She added another pupil who had been taught by Mrs Barnes and Ms Carter became ‘extremely distraught’ and thought they were talking about her because ‘her ears stuck out’.

Ian Groom, representing Mrs Barnes, suggested the comments, while in bad taste, were friendly chat between colleagues ‘letting off steam’ after a hard day.

But Ms Hayter said: “It was wholly inappropriate, it shows lack of respect, it was unprofessional.”

She added: “Greenacres is a special school and we have to work on a high level of trust.”

Both Mrs Barnes and Ms Carter claim the comments were taken out of context and were not meant to be taken seriously.

They also believed what was said on Facebook could only be viewed by ‘friends and friends of friends’ and argue dismissal was too harsh a punishment.

The teachers will give evidence when the hearing resumes at a later date.