London - A teacher branded unsafe to work with children after he confiscated a pupil’s mobile phone is suing for £250 000 (R4.5 million).
Jean Camurat says his former headmistress left his professional reputation in tatters following the incident at a ‘challenging’ secondary school.
The language teacher, 59, told the High Court that discipline had broken down to the extent that he had to take out a restraining order against one threatening pupil.
However, the court heard headteacher Teresa Walker opposed Mr Camurat’s ‘traditional’ methods and he was suspended, and his contract subsequently terminated, after taking a pupil’s phone.
‘It was alleged that I had assaulted a pupil in the course of confiscating a mobile telephone during a lesson,’ Mr Camurat told Judge Sir Colin Mackay.
‘The school had a clear policy on confiscating mobiles. I had repeatedly warned that the class should not use mobile phones during a lesson and that I would confiscate them.
‘I saw this particular pupil using her mobile and reached to confiscate it. I did pull the phone when she did not let go [but] the girl was not hurt.
‘I was suspended from work two weeks later. Teresa Walker told me she was going to recommend dismissal for gross misconduct,’ he said.
Mr Camurat claims that Mrs Walker later breached the compromise agreement signed when he left the school and gave false information to the police, which made it ‘impossible’ for him to get another permanent teaching post.
He is now suing Mrs Walker and the local authority, Thurrock Borough Council, claiming malicious falsehood, breach of contract, misrepresentation and negligence. He is seeking £250,000 in damages.
Both Mrs Walker and the council deny the accusations, saying they acted entirely properly and were obliged, when asked, to pass information about Mr Camurat to the police before it made its way on to his Criminal Record Bureau file.
Mr Camurat’s barrister, Michael Bradley, told the judge that the information ‘would cause the reasonable reader to form the view that Mr Camurat should never work with children’.
The teacher was said to have taken part in a tug of war over a book, which hit a pupil in the face after Mr Camurat let go. He was also accused of grabbing a girl’s arm to stop her from leaving class to watch a fight in the corridor.
Mr Camurat denied wrongdoing in relation to any of the incidents, and has successfully applied to have his CRB record wiped clean of the disputed claims.
He told the judge: ‘When I started in the post I had five years’ teaching experience, good references and an unblemished disciplinary record at my previous schools.’
Aveley School in Essex, which has since been renamed Ormiston Park Academy, was put in special measures in 2004, the year after Mr Camurat joined as head of languages.
‘It was a tough school and I found aspects of behaviour-management challenging,’ he said.
When he arrived, a ‘more old-fashioned’ head was in charge, with whom he had a good relationship – but Mr Camurat said Mrs Walker ‘favoured introducing new educational techniques’.
After she became headmistress, staff split into ‘two factions’. Mr Camurat told the court: ‘I spoke up in favour of a more traditional approach.’
Explaining her attitude to physical discipline, Mrs Walker told the judge: ‘Physical contact is best avoided. I explained that at no time is it appropriate to touch a child except in self-defence.’
She admitted there were a lot of disruptive pupils at the school during Mr Camurat’s tenure, but said Ormiston Park was ‘now considered to be a good school’.
She said she had not seen eye-to-eye with Mr Camurat over teaching techniques but denied having a grudge against him. ‘I bear him no ill will,’ she stressed.
Jonathan Auburn, for Mrs Walker and the council, defended their actions, saying: ‘Following a series of incidents involving physical interactions with children and later issues relating to other staff, Mr Camurat left under a compromise agreement.
‘After he left, Mrs Walker and the council and responded to a request for information from police by providing them with a document. The document, viewed as a whole, was broadly accurate.’
Judgment was reserved.