27 Oct 2015

Former Invercargill principal awarded $158,000

7:48 pm on 27 October 2015

A former principal says government intervention at her primary school exacerbated problems and led to her being sacked - a decision the Employment Court says was unlawful.

Students away from a classroom, which is filled with empty school desks.

The Principals' Federation says it is working with the Ministry of Education to improve statutory interventions. Photo: 123RF

The court has awarded Marlene Campbell more than $158,000 after it found allegations she bullied her staff and swore at pupils at Salford School could not be proved.

The Education Review Office carried out a review in 2012 after a group of teachers complained Ms Campbell was causing rifts in the staffroom.

The Ministry of Education then appointed a limited statutory manager, Peter Macdonald, at the school - a move Ms Campbell said caused further division.

"I didn't think that our school was at risk and I still don't believe that it was," she said. "After eight years in the role and not having had a complaint, it was a surprise."

After almost two years of staff interviews, reports and anonymous questionnaires, Ms Campbell was sacked for serious misconduct in March 2014.

But the Employment Court found the school's decision was based on few specific examples, and relied on confidential information.

Ms Campbell blamed the statutory intervention for exacerbating divisions at the school, and said there were many more principals in a similar position.

"In education now, statutory interventions are becoming incredibly common," she said.

"I'm currently in contact with 16 principals who are either in an intervention or were in an intervention that resulted in them resigning or being dismissed.

"Principals, in the main, tell me they very quickly become professionally isolated and feel like they've got some sort of professional leprosy.

She said she planned to be a consultant for principals going through statutory intervention, but would not be drawn on whether she planned to return to teaching.

The Education Review Office declined to comment, saying it was an employment matter.

The Ministry of Education said it would be inappropriate to comment on the court's ruling but the decision to appoint the limited statutory manager was appropriate.

The ministry's head of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said Mr Macdonald "worked hard under difficult circumstances to try and resolve a range of issues at the school".

She said Mr Macdonald was replaced two years ago by a commissioner, who had made progress in a number of areas, and the school was now advertising for a principal.

Principals' Federation president Denise Torrey said it was working with the Ministry of Education to improve the statutory intervention process.

"Some of them are highly successful and work out well and others do not," she said.

"It is very isolating and we try and put in support for people who are going through this - we'd like to see help put in place before things escalate to interventions."

Ms Campbell also asked the court to reinstate her at Salford School, but it decided there were damaged relationships which would be too difficult to repair.

"We were disappointed about that but, ultimately, I think the school deserves the opportunity to move forward and everybody does, so we accepted that with a degree of sadness," she said.

The award of $158,700 includes 38 weeks' lost salary, legal costs, and reparation for hurt and humiliation.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs