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Head banned for bullying has high court appeal thrown out

A High Court judge has thrown out a headteacher’s appeal against a teaching ban for bullying in a case that was said by one union to be a sign of the misconduct regulator “failing”. 

Mahzia ‘Pepe’ Hart, former headteacher of Trinity Church School in Radstock, Somerset, appealed a prohibition order banning her from working in the profession for at least two years.

Last year, the general secretary of the NAHT union, Paul Whiteman, said he had “significant concerns” over the case, adding “every week gives us cause for concern that the TRA [Teaching Regulation Agency] is a failing regulator”. 

But Mr Justice Eyre dismissed Hart’s appeal in a judgement published last Friday following a two-day hearing at London’s High Court in November.

He said: “When in a position of leadership and power [Hart] was found to have bullied teachers who were pregnant (and as such vulnerable at least to a degree); to have made inappropriate comments to or about staff members; to have mocked staff members; and to have intimidated staff members. 

“She was found to have done this repeatedly and over a period of three years.”

An independent TRA panel ruled in November 2022 that Hart was guilty of “bullying, intimidating, mocking, mimicking and making inappropriate comments towards staff over a number of years” as part of “a pattern of behaviour that was incompatible with being a teacher”.  

Hart won several national awards but resigned in 2015 following complaints by a “number of staff members”. 

But after a five-week TRA hearing, 25 specific allegations against her were found “not proved”. Eleven others were also withdrawn by regulators before the verdict.

Hart ‘disappointed’ by high court appeal outcome

Her grounds for the High Court appeal related to the procedural fairness of the case, the panel’s approach to assessing evidence, and whether the sanction was “necessary and proportionate”. 

However, Eyre said Hart’s “submissions as to the nature and gravity of her actions markedly underplay the seriousness of her conduct”. 

The TRA panel found Hart had “failed to make any expression of remorse or demonstrate any insight”. Eyre found it was “entitled to regard the risk of recurrence as a very powerful factor”.  

He said the “panel’s approach to the fact-finding exercise was markedly careful and restrained”. 

Hart said she is “disappointed” by the outcome and “cannot show remorse for things that I have not done”. 

She said on X: “It would be going against my own principles and morals to not challenge injustice, hence the reason I felt compelled to appeal the TRA decision… I cannot show remorse for things that I have not done.”

Alongside the TRA case, Hart has been suing the National Education Union (NEU) and its regional district secretary David Biddleston. She accused him of inciting union members to complain about her, motivated partly by anti-academy sentiment.

Biddleston “denies the alleged conspiracy” and argues he was “acting in his capacity” as an NEU officer.

These proceedings are “ongoing” but “it does not appear that a hearing is imminent”, Eyre added.

Hart told Schools Week her ongoing legal battle is “taking its toll on my mental health on a daily basis”. 

Whiteman said this week that NAHT “never comment on the details of individual cases” but said it “remains concerned about issues with the TRA. We are using every means available to seek improvement.”

The regulator was rebranded as the TRA after the spectacular collapse of a high-profile and controversial case of teachers said to be involved in the Trojan Horse scandal.

A huge backlog in cases since Covid also means they now take on average more than two years to resolve.

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