The Telegraph

Friday, 5 February 1999

Headmistress 'bullied male teacher out of job'

By Neil Tweedie
The Daily Telegraph/Electronic Telegraph (London, UK)

The last remaining male teacher at a junior school was bullied out of the job he held for 24 years by a headmistress who disliked men, an industrial tribunal was told yesterday.

Graham Atkin, 49, said he had suffered from post-traumatic stress as a result of the intimidation he endured at the hands of Lorrie Cooper. Mr Atkin, who worked at the Grove School in Camberley, Surrey, is claiming unfair dismissal after being sacked for lying to Miss Cooper about drinking a cup of wine on school premises after working hours.

He said at the tribunal: "The school was being led by a woman who let her hostility towards men affect her working relationship with me, the sole remaining male member of her staff."

Mr Atkin, a PE and maths teacher from Egham, Surrey, described how his first 22 years at the school - which had a staff of 20 - had been "very happy times". He said his wife had envied him because he loved going to the school every day, and colleagues regularly praised his work.

But that had changed when Miss Cooper arrived in the spring of 1994, he claimed. Mr Atkin said: "Within the first three weeks she called me into her office to say my work was unsatisfactory."

"She called me prehistoric and said she couldn't understand why someone would stay at the same school for more than five years. She said it was in my best interests to leave and find another school.

"Up to that point I was an outgoing person. I was popular. But Miss Cooper changed me. I was intimidated and scared of her. I went to the doctor and he called it traumatic stress."

The tribunal was told that when Mr Atkin's class excelled in SAT exams he was given no thanks, but was instead handed a class full of low achievers and pupils with special needs.

Mr Atkin said Miss Cooper would regularly interrupt his classes to check on their progress, and colleagues began to avoid him. He said: "At times the stress was intolerable and I was nearly reduced to tears."

Matters came to a head in January 1996 when Mr Atkin took a bottle of wine which had been sitting in the school staff room for several weeks. He later opened the bottle during a gym class he ran independently of the school in the school hall and shared a glass of wine with a parent volunteer.

Miss Cooper questioned him about the drinking, but he denied it because he felt intimidated. He was suspended six days later and, following a disciplinary hearing in September 1996, he was sacked.

Mr Atkin said: "She told me: 'Get out of my office, get out of my school and don't come back.' I just looked at her. It was the most humiliating experience of my life. I looked at her and she was smiling. I had fallen for her trap."

He said that, despite his dismissal, Surrey county council's education authority offered to place him on the list of supply teachers and give him a reference, but both offers were withdrawn when he said he was proceeding with an industrial tribunal.

Jonathan Moffett, representing Surrey county council, said Mr Atkin had been guilty of gross misconduct in lying about the drink and that was the main reason why he had been dismissed.

Debra Wilson, who shared the wine with Mr Atkin, told the court: "There was only a tiny amount in the first place and I don't think Mr Atkin drank all his to be honest."

The case was adjourned until April 20.

Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 1999.